Ukraine issues arrest warrant for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych

Posted at 9:09 AM, Feb 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-24 11:09:32-05

By Ralph Ellis and Nick Paton Walsh

KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) — Ukraine’s ousted president is a wanted man. He’s also a missing man.

Viktor Yanukovych is not in Kiev. The mayor of Kharkiv, where Yanukovych was Saturday, says he hasn’t seen him in a few days.

He’s also apparently not hiding in a bunker in a Ukrainian Orthodox monastery, a church spokesman said, swatting down the latest speculation.

Ukraine’s onetime — and, by his account, current — President is facing a warrant for the “mass killings” of civilians.

Over the weekend, he fled to Kharkiv, a pro-Russian stronghold near the border. And he tried to board a charter plane in the eastern city of Donetsk but was turned away because he didn’t have documents.

In his last known public act, he delivered a televised speech Saturday from Kharkiv in which he rejected Parliament’s ouster and vowed to fight.

“I don’t plan to leave the country. I don’t plan to resign. I am the legitimate President,” he said Saturday in a televised broadcast.

Critics weren’t impressed.

“It’s a remarkable situation when the most sought-after character in the country is the President of Ukraine, who is hiding and doing everything to leave the country, to avoid responsibility,” opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said Monday.

Yanukovych’s ouster and disappearance capped a weekend of dizzying developments after Parliament voted to oust Yanukovych as a concession to relentless protests, which led to the deadliest violence in the country since its independence 22 years ago.

For now, Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Turchinov will take over Yanukovych’s duties. He is a longtime ally of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko’s.

He has promised a new interim government by Tuesday and new elections in May.

The head of Ukraine’s electoral commission, Konstantin Khivrenko, said the campaign to elect a new president will begin Tuesday, three months before the May 25 election date.

As Ukraine moves toward elections, several challenges await, most notably how Russia will react.

It was Yanukovych’s decision to scrap a European Union trade deal in favor of one with Russia that prompted the protests in November.

Now, the country’s new leaders have made clear that Kiev’s return to European integration will be a priority. But in doing so, they risk losing the largess that the Kremlin had bestowed on Yanukovych.

Taking no chances, interim Finance Minister Yury Kolobov proposed Monday that an international donor conference be held in the next two weeks. Ukraine, he said, will need $35 billion in foreign assistance by the end of 2015.

Yanukovych has traditionally looked upon eastern Ukraine, near Russia, as his traditional support base. Russian culture and language are predominant there.

People in the east are suspicious of the Europe-leaning views of those in western Ukraine, who were at the heart of the protests against Yanukovych that filled central Kiev for months.

The big question: How will Russian President Vladimir Putin respond? He’s been Yanukovych’s chief ally, and Ukraine is in his backyard. Will he act militarily?

The U.S. has expressed support for the action of Parliament. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with the Russian foreign minister Sunday and asked Russia not to not use military force in the country, according to a senior State Department official.

The State Department also warned U.S. citizens to defer all nonessential travel to Ukraine.

Nick Paton Walsh wrote this report from Kiev, and Ralph Ellis wrote from Atlanta.

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