From President To Fugitive — In The Span Of A Week
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Last week, Viktor Yanukovych was Ukraine's head of state. Today, he's a wanted fugitive. The acting interior minister issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of mass murder. Yanukovych's main backer, meanwhile, is stepping up its criticism of the upheaval that has swept through Ukraine.
Russia is warning of risks to ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and we'll hear more of the Russian perspective in a moment. But first, NPR's Peter Kenyan has been following the fast-moving development's today and has this report from Kiev.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: With his own party abandoning him and authorities looking to arrest him, Yanukovych fled to the East where his pro-Russian views find more sympathy. That's according to interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who took to Facebook to post what authorities believe are Yanukovych's movements since Friday to the eastern cities of Kharkiv and Donetsk and finally by car to Crimea, the semiautonomous peninsula with a large Russian population.
With their former president still at large, Kiev's Independence Square remains packed with demonstrators. But instead of defiant speeches and chants, the sounds reflect a population desperate to know what comes next. Amid a row of white tents an elderly couple bundled against the cold huddles next to an old transistor radio with a stub of an antenna, its batteries held in place by tape.
It's a live broadcast of the opposition-led parliament where speaker turned interim president, Alexander Turchynov, raced through votes sacking the old cabinet and installing opposition figures. In a matter of minutes, the intelligence chief, head of the central bank and other top officials were replaced. Sixty-three year old Alexi Karoniv(ph) grabs the antenna for better reception and says this is his fourth revolution so he should know better than to be optimistic. But this time, he thinks it might stick.
ALEXI KARONIV: (Through interpreter) This time, the uprising was the most radical and the backlash was the most violent I've seen. That's because the bandits in the government took all the power, all the money and pushed us to the brink. This time we won't let things go back to the way they were.
KENYON: But that view is far less popular in eastern Ukraine where there have been a few clashes and large pro-Russian rallies. Brian Mefford(ph), a political consultant here, says the Crimea is the area to watch, especially the port city of Sevastopol.
BRIAN MEFFORD: And, of course, Sevastopol is a flashpoint of all that as the Russian Black Sea fleet is stationed there as of now for another 25 years, although that could change with this new parliament. So Crimea is clearly something to watch. Kiev is going to have to find a way to lessen tensions in Crimea without invoking Russian intervention.
KENYON: Those in the east who take their cue from Russia heard the rhetoric escalate today as the Russian prime minister asked how anyone could see, quote, "an armed mutiny as legitimate." Mefford, a 15-year observer of Ukrainian politics says the two most urgent tasks now are agreeing on a prime minister and getting him or her to immediate talks with the West on securing the billions of dollars Ukraine needs to avoid defaulting on its debt obligations.
As for Yanukovych, Mefford notes that if he's apprehended, it won't be his first stint in jail and he's familiar with the ups and downs of being a pro-Russian politician in this deeply divided country.
MEFFORD: But the resilience of the Ukrainian people was a factor that I think the Kremlin was not counting on in their support for Yanukovych. And when it became clear on Friday night that the protestors were not backing down, I think Putin simply cut his losses and Yanukovych was literally a man without a country and without any support.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)
KENYON: Now, many Ukrainians are keeping an eye out to the east, some in anxiety, some in hope watching to see how Russian leader Vladimir Putin deals with the new reality of a clear pro-European majority in the Ukrainian capital. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.