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Ukraine's President Has Been Voted Out of Power

Protesters in Kiev took control of Parliament and charges may be brought against Yanukovych.

by Henry Langston
Feb 23 2014, 3:45pm

Photo: Henry Langston

Yesterday, protesters in Kiev took control of Ukraine's Parliament building. Inside, members of Parliament voted overwhelmingly to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from power and appointed a new attorney general, who will investigate whether charges should be brought against the ousted leader for the deaths of demonstrators killed during this week's protests. We spoke to our news editor Henry Langston – who's currently on the ground in Kiev – to see how the capital has reacted to the news.

VICE: Hey Henry. It seems like yesterday was pretty momentous. What can you tell me?
Henry Langston, VICE UK News Editor: The police had pulled away from the Parliament building on Friday afternoon as part of the deal to calm the situation. So the protesters were aware of that, and in the morning large groups of them just walked up to the Parliament building and started controlling access to it. They started moving police vehicles that had been left behind – some big trucks, water cannons, even an armored personnel carrier. At the same time, Parliament was in session, hurrying through a number of votes. They passed resolutions to strip President Yanukovych of his powers, impeach him and hold elections on the 25th of May.

Vitali Klitschko inside Parliament.

Did you get inside Parliament? What was it like in there?
Yeah we did. It was a hive of activity, people were gathering outside and MPs were looking out the windows during the breaks to see what was developing. We managed to get some food at the buffet. I had some chicken and some salad. It was very cheap, but not that great.

Good to know. Where was Yanukovych at the time?
There were rumors that he'd fled the city. Some were saying he'd gone to Sochi, others were saying that he'd gone to the United Arab Emirates, and then in the early afternoon he announced that he was in Kharkiv. It's an eastern city that's more pro-government – but it's still seen anti-government demonstrations. We also heard that he tried to fly to Russia but that the Ukrainian border police wouldn’t let him.

What's he been saying?
He was saying that he wouldn’t resign, that it’s a fascist coup and that it reminds him of Nazi Germany. We were watching the interview in a bar when we were getting some food, and people there were laughing openly at what he was saying. He’s not a serious figure in Kiev any more. He hasn’t resigned, but it doesn’t really matter.

So not a great day for him, then.
No. His private residence in Mezhyhirya was taken over by protesters. It’s a huge estate – it’s crazy. The fact he has this lavish palace has always been something that’s pissed off a lot of people here.

Does he have any power at all now?
Parliament voted in a new interior minister, who's a member of one of the opposition parties. So effectively the police are now under the control of the opposition, meaning even if Yanukovych ordered some sort of crackdown from Kharkiv, there would be nobody to carry it out because the police wouldn’t answer to him.

A catapult built by protesters.

And are the police cooperating? Have you seen them fraternizing with protesters?
There were some outside the Cabinet of Ministers building early in the morning, and there was a line of protesters there as well. There didn’t seem to be any animosity between them.

What's the reaction been in the rest of the country?
One of the votes in Parliament was against a separatist move to split the country along Russian and Ukrainian speaking lines. In Kharkiv, Yanukovych has set up a shadow government of loyal MPs who, he says, act for all of Ukraine. So there’s a little bit of a worry that the country might split.

Update – today Yanukovych seems to have gone to ground, as his whereabouts are unknown.

Yulia Tymoshenko

And Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minster, has been freed from detention, right?
Yulia Tymoshenko left hospital in Kharkiv, where she was being held, and got on a plane to Kiev. We saw her lay some flowers at the spot where a protester died. She’s very weak – she had to be held up as she walked. She went to Independence Square and a lot of the crowd basically went nuts. It was a real hero's welcome. I wouldn’t say it’s a cult of personality, exactly, but she’s definitely got fans. There are pictures of her face on T-shirts and placards – you don’t really see that with other figures.

While she spoke, the crowd was deadly silent. Then she said, “Slavo Ukraina!” – glory to Ukraine – and there was a huge cacophony in response. She was very emotional and crying on stage. She was congratulating everyone for removing the “cancer” and “tumor” of Yanukovych. But she was also saying that people should stick around and see things through.

Was everyone pleased to see her, or just the fans?
Her presence was mostly popular, but I think some people were a bit skeptical. They don’t think everything’s OK because she’s back. There were some reports of people walking away and not listening to what she had to say.

And what was the vibe in the square?
In the daytime there were a few more funerals for dead protesters – things were quite somber. People were shocked that they didn’t have to resort to violence – any more violence – to take Parliament.

How about in the evening?
The atmosphere in the square wasn’t really celebratory until after Tymoshenko spoke. When she was finished, this compere started listing the groups involved and calling them heroes and chanting victory. Then celebrations began. People were smiling and waving flags and clapping. Fireworks were let off.

What happens next?
There's a lot of expectation on these opposition leaders. These protesters know that the use of force got them what they wanted. They know that if the political leaders don’t do what they want, they can change things without having to go to the ballot box. People died on the barricades and you’ve got these sort of militia groups like the Right Sector and Euromaidan Self Defense feeling like they’re owed.

It’s quite a significant and possibly worrying development. The politics of the Right Sector are very right wing. The Euromaidan Self Defense are less easily defined in terms of left and right wing. Most people have been fighting for a more Western-looking society, for more democracy and against corruption – not for fascism or socialism. But it feels a bit dodgy when militias are roaming around, feeling like they deserve some power.

Follow Henry and VICE UK on Twitter for updates: @Henry_Langston