UPDATE (Saturday, Feb. 22, 12:30 p.m.): Ukraine's border guard service says that a leading governor and a mayor from the president's eastern base, both allies of now ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, have fled to Russia. Kharkiv regional governor Mikhaylo Dobkin and Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes left Ukraine across the nearby Russian border Saturday.
UPDATE (Saturday, Feb. 22, 11:41 a.m.): Yulia Tymoshenko’s party says the former prime minister has been freed from prison. Tymoshenko is a long-time opponent of President Viktor Yanukovych. On her release, she announced, “The dictatorship has fallen,” according to BBC.
UPDATE (Saturday, Feb. 22, 10:54 a.m.): Ukraine’s Parliament has voted unanimously to oust President Viktor Yanukovych from office.
UPDATE (Saturday, Feb. 22, 10:32 a.m.): Ukraine’s Parliament has voted to call early presidential elections for May 25. The decision comes just hours after President Viktor Yanukovych said he would not respect any decisions made by parliament.
UPDATE (Saturday, Feb. 22, 10:10 a.m.): Protesters took control of Kiev Saturday, seizing the president’s office as parliament sought to oust him and form a new government. President Viktor Yanukovych described the events as a coup and insisted he would not step down.
OUR EARLIER REPORT: After days of deadly clashes in protester-occupied central Kiev, opposition leaders met with government officials throughout the night and made an announcement at dawn this morning: President Viktor Yanukovych signed a deal with European and Russian mediators agreeing to early presidential elections and a coalition government.
But protesters who have witnessed civilian deaths at the hands of snipers are skeptical of any deal that falls short of Yanukovych’s imminent resignation. As night fell in Ukraine on Friday, close to 50,000 people gathered in Maidan for a funeral service commemorating the estimated 77 deaths during the latest round of violence.
Mychailo Wynnyckyj, a sociology professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, has been visiting Maidan throughout the conflict and said tonight’s gathering was full of anger towards opposition leaders. “It is now clear that the opposition’s ‘negotiations’ are not acceptable to Maidan, and the political leaders are NOT in control. Heaven help us, but I feel we’re in for more bloodshed—soon,” he wrote.
According to Wynnyckyj, protesters carrying a coffin interrupted the funeral service during a speech by opposition leader Vitali Kitschko, a world champion boxer who has been at the forefront of the movement and negotiations with government leaders. The crowd began shouting, “Who will answer for this?” as a “Sotnia” commander forced his way onto the stage and issued an ultimatum: “Either force the president’s resignation by 10 a.m. tomorrow and renounce your deal with Yanukovych” or opposition troops will advance to the government headquarters.
Two hours west of Kiev, things are a little quieter but not peaceful. Rosalynn Prough may be far from the epicenter of the conflict but she’s actively involved with those on the front lines. Today she’s trying to raise money for Israeli bulletproof vests for two of her close friends who are at Maidan, Oleg Magdych and Dennis Kondratiuk.
Magdych is one of the pastors at New Life Church in Keiv and has been at Maidan since protests began in November. He is one of the original founders of the large prayer tent that has been a source of comfort and supplies for protesters. Magdych told me the prayer tent we reported yesterday as burnt to the ground was a separate orthodox tent. “We are there from day one and will be one of the last tents to shut down!” he said.
“People were not happy with the opposition leaders signing an agreement with Yanukovych,” Magdych added. “But after a few laws that were passed in the Parliament in the last few hours, protesters are not that mad. But we are still not happy with the deal about the president being there until December.”
Parliament voted today in favor of freeing jailed opposition leader Julia Tymoshenko. According to Wynnyckyj, the president has two weeks to sign the law or veto it—the true test of his ultimate intentions.
Kostya Farkovets, an adoption facilitator from the eastern town of Gorlovka, points to yesterday’s troubling statement from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as proof of the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukrainian affairs: “It is necessary for the partners themselves to maintain their tone and for the active authorities in Ukraine to be legitimate and effective, not a doormat for everyone to clean their feet.”
“That alone just blows my mind,” Farkovets said about Medvedev’s comments. “He is suggesting (in reality he sends a very clear message) that our president should stand up and act manly, and kill more if necessary and the rest will bow down.
Prough, who works with older orphans in Zhytomyr, says a new phenomenon is gripping towns across Ukraine. Locals are calling it “Leninfall” and it involves the toppling of Lenin statues in smaller towns across the region. She proudly posted on Facebook a picture of herself holding a piece of the Lenin statue from her town and a link to video showing the toppling of the Lenin statue in nearby Khmelnitsky, the town from which I adopted two girls four years ago.
As outrage against the Yanukovych regime spreads across Ukraine, this conflict appears far from over.