On Feb. 23, the Ukrainian parliament voted in a special session to temporarily hand over presidential power to speaker Oleksandr Turchinov. This comes after the impeachment of President Yanukovych the day prior. The vote to impeach Yanukovych was made by “an overwhelming majority of parliament,” according to ABC News.
Yanukovych, who has fled to the city of Kharkov, in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country, released a statement in which he claimed the protesters “are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign. I am the legitimately elected president.”
Despite this, CNN News reported that Yanukovych did indeed try to exit Ukraine, but was denied due to improper flying documentation. After those he was with unsuccessfully tried to pay off a Ukrainian Border Guard Service employee, Yanukovych left the tarmac. As of the morning of Sunday, Feb. 23, his spokesman announced that he was unaware of the whereabouts of President Yanukovych.
The Ukrainian parliament also voted to free former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, where she was serving out a seven year sentence after being arrested and charged on abuse of powers charges in early 2011.
She appeared before a crowd of 50,000 activists mere hours after being released. Sitting in a wheelchair, appearing worn, she spoke words of encouragement to the protesters: “You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine.” She also encouraged them to continue with their efforts, stating, “In no case do you have the right to leave the Maiden [Kiev’s Independence Square] until you have completed everything you came to do.”
Tymoshenko told reporters that she “would run for president” and stated that she wished to head to Kiev to be with the people. Tymoshenko was the prime minister of Ukraine from 2007 until 2010, when she lost the presidential election to Yanukovych. Shortly after losing to Yanukovych, Tymoshenko was charged with abuse of power resulting from a controversial gas trade deal with Russia. She was convicted and sentenced to seven years of prison, but was released as part of the new sanctions passed by the Ukrainian parliament.
The sanctions also called for the presidential elections to be moved up from 2015 to May 25, 2014. Tymoshenko will be running against Yanukovych. Tymoshenko has pushed for Ukraine to become closer with the European Union, and supports severing ties with Russia, something that Yanukovych adamantly opposes.
These developments come at the end of a bloody week marked by numerous firefights between police and protesters in Kiev, resulting in the deaths of at least 82 people. Seventy of those deaths occurred on Thursday alone. RTNnews.com reports that the Ukrainian Health Department has estimated at many as 570 people have been injured since the protests began three months ago.
Protesters in Western Ukraine, who are in strong favor of severing all ties with Russia, have begun to topple several statues of Lenin that are still found throughout Ukraine, even going so far as to destroy a statue that commemorates Soviet troops who saved Ukrainians from the Nazis.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry, after its troops battled protesters for nearly three months on the streets of Kiev, has announced that it is siding with the activists and not the president.
Vitali Klitschko, the opposition party leader, also urged his people to keep calm and try to cooperate with the Interior Ministry.
He was quoted by ABC News as saying, “The people have won because we fought for our future. It is only the beginning of the battle.”
In response to the current issues in Kiev, Yanukovych said, “Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’état. I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”
President Yanukovych is not the only one who does not want to see any more bloodshed in Ukraine. The European Union has agreed to send some of its top officials to Ukraine to help diffuse the situation. In addition, Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, revealed that during a phone conversation on Feb. 21, Obama and Russian President Putin both agreed that “a political settlement in Kiev should ensure the country’s unity and personal freedoms.”
Editor’s Note: Information from CNN, ABC News and RTNnews was used in this report.