Kiev — Protesters seized the Kiev office of President Viktor Yanukovich yesterday and his whereabouts were a mystery, as the pro-Russian leader’s grip on power rapidly eroded following bloodshed in the Ukrainian capital.
Parliament voted to free his arch-rival, jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Her daughter said Tymoshenko was already free under Ukrainian law but still in the hospital where she has been held for treatment.
The newly-installed interior minister declared that the police were now behind the protesters they had fought for days, giving central Kiev the look of a war zone with 77 people killed, while central authority crumbled in western Ukraine.
At the president’s headquarters, Ostap Kryvdyk, who described himself as a protest commander, said some protesters had entered the offices but there was no looting. “We will guard the building until the next president comes,” he said. “Yanukovich will never be back.”
The grounds of Yanukovich’s residence outside Kiev were also being guarded by “self-defence” militia of protesters.
The quick disintegration of Yanukovich’s government marked a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had counted on the Ukrainian leader to bring Ukraine into a Eurasian Union to help rebuild as much of the old Soviet Union as possible.
A senior security source said Yanukovich was still in Ukraine but was unable to say whether he was in Kiev. An ally was quoted as saying he was in a city in the country’s generally pro-Russian east.
The government, still led by a Yanukovich ally, said it would ensure a smooth handover of power to a new administration.
Yanukovich, who enraged much of the population by turning away from the European Union to cultivate closer relations with Russia three months ago, made sweeping concessions in a deal brokered by European diplomats on Friday after days of pitched fighting in Kiev, with police snipers gunning down protesters.