On Saturday, Ukraine’s parliament voted to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych, perhaps bringing to an end to the months of protests that followed his November refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union. The events leading up to Saturday’s vote were frenzied: clashes earlier in the week had left over 100 people dead; on Friday, the European Union had brokered a controversial peace deal between Yanukovych and the opposition; and on Saturday, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison and promptly flew from Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine where she was being held, to the Maidan, Ukraine’s Independence Square. Her return, which could upset the fragile balance among the protest movement’s three main opposition leaders, sparked concerns among protesters that this week marked the end of Yanukovych’s rule but not the start of something new.
Of all last week’s events, Yanukovych’s removal was perhaps the most surprising. The deal he signed with the three opposition leaders and EU representatives on Friday had allowed him to stay in office until December, when early elections were to be held. Later that night, however, a commander of one of the protest movement’s defense units sent Yanukovych an ultimatum from the stage in Independence Square: resign, or face an armed surge. By early Saturday, there were unconfirmed reports that Yanukovych had, indeed, left office. Later that day, however, a mysterious television interview surfaced on UBR, a Ukrainian business channel. In it, a worn-out looking Yanukovych called the week’s events a coup and vowed to fight on. “I don’t intend to leave the country,” he said, “I don’t intend to step down. I am the legally chosen president.” Even so, he was stopped that evening trying to leave Ukraine and then, somehow, vanished. His whereabouts remain unknown.
Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which has a support base in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, has been quick to drop him, blaming him for the unrest statement on Sunday, party officials lamented that “The million-member party effectively become the hostage of one corrupt Family,” referring to Yanukovych’s innermost circle. And it seems that even Yanukovych’s onetime ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has given up on him, judging him to be incompetent. No one is sure what Russia’s next move will be; Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine was summoned back to Moscow late Sunday.
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