FoxNews on February 22, 2014, reported that hours after being released from prison after 2 1/2 years in captivity, former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko appeared before crowds gathered at the protester encampment in Ukraine’s capital, urging the protesters to keep occupying the square. Excerpts below:
Her speech to the crowd of about 50,000, made from a wheelchair because of the severe back problems she suffered in prison, was the latest stunning development in the fast-moving Ukrainian political crisis.
Only a day earlier, her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, signed an agreement with protest leaders that cut his powers and called for early elections. Parliament, once controlled by Yanukovych supporters, quickly thereafter voted to decriminalize the abuse-of-office charge for which Tymoshenko was convicted.
Yanukovych decamped from Kiev to Kharkiv, a city in his support base in eastern Ukraine, while protesters took control of the presidential administration building and thousands of curious and contemptuous Ukrainians roamed the suddenly open grounds of the lavish compound outside Kiev where he was believed to live.
Earlier in the day Tymoshenko had promised to run for president, news agencies reported, saying she will make it so that no drop of blood that was spilled will be forgotten.
Her release on February 22 was made possible by a European-brokered peace deal between her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, and the opposition.
The reversal of fortune for both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych was an eerie echo of the Orange Revolution of a decade ago — the mass protests that forced a rerun of a presidential election nominally won by Yanukovych. Tymoshenko attracted world attention as the most vivid of the protest leaders, her elaborate blond peasant braid making her instantly recognizable.
“You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine!” she said of those killed in the violence. The Health Ministry on Saturday said the death toll in clashes between protesters and police that included sniper attacks had reached 82.
And she urged the demonstrators not to yield from their encampment in the square, known in Ukrainian as the Maidan.
“In no case do you have the right to leave the Maidan until you have concluded everything that you planned to do,” she said.
The country’s western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych’s government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president.
“The people have won, because we fought for our future,” said opposition leader Vitali Klitschko to a euphoric crowd of thousands gathered on Kiev’s Independence Square. Beneath a cold, heavy rain, protesters who have stood for weeks and months to pressure the president to leave congratulated each other and shouted “Glory to Ukraine!”
“It is only the beginning of the battle,” Klitschko said, urging calm and telling protesters not to take justice into their own hands.
The president’s support base crumbled further as a leading governor and a mayor from the eastern city of Kharkiv fled to Russia.
Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the border guard service, told The Associated Press that Kharkiv regional governor Mikhaylo Dobkin and Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes left Ukraine across the nearby Russian border.
Saturday’s developments were the result of a European-brokered peace deal between the president and opposition.
[Among] the motions [were]:
-saying that the president removed himself from power;
-setting new elections for May 25 instead of next year;
-trimming the president’s powers;
-naming a new interior minister after firing the old one;
The decisions were passed with large majorities, including yes votes from some members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which dominated Ukraine’s political scene until this week but is now swiftly losing support.
Ukraine’s defense and military officials also called for Ukrainians to stay peaceful. In statements on February 22, both the Defense Ministry and the chief of the armed forces said they will not be drawn into any conflict and will side with the people.
Anti-government protesters around the country took out their anger on statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, using ropes and crowbars to knock them off pedestals in several cities and towns. Statues of Lenin still stand across the former USSR, and they are seen as a symbol of Moscow’s rule.
The past week has seen the worst violence in Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. At Independence Square protesters heaped flowers on the coffins of the dead.
“These are heroes of Ukraine who gave their lives so that we could live in a different country without Yanukovych,” said protester Viktor Fedoruk, 32. “Their names will be written in golden letters in the history of Ukraine.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.