As Ukrainian opposition consolidates, Yanukovych's support base crumbles

The ousted president's own party has denounced his rule, underscoring the seismic political shift in Ukraine. But opposition leaders may not have it all their way. 

Efrem Lukatsky/AP
People lay flowers and lit candles at one of the barricades heading to Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the Ukraine's recent unrest, on a day of mourning Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. Official reports say 82 people were killed in severe clashes between opposition activists and riot police.

As mourning continued in Kiev's Independence Square for protesters killed in last week’s decisive clashes, impeached President Viktor Yanukovych’s base crumbled further as his own party accused him of making the nation a “hostage” to his corruption.

Mr. Yanukovych’s whereabouts remained unknown. He was last seen yesterday in a prerecorded interview on state television in which he insisted on his legitimacy and said he was being threatened by a fascist coup. Parliament had earlier ousted him and installed its new speaker as interim leader, capping a tumultuous week for Ukraine.

In a statement posted on its website, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions said it was ashamed of his “cowardice” in his disappearance. It said he had betrayed the Ukrainian people by issuing orders that led to the killing of 83 people and nearly 600 wounded during the past week. “All responsibility for this lies with Yanukovych and his close entourage,” the statement said. 

Video surveillance from the former president’s sprawling mansion outside the capital showed several buses and two helicopters leaving in the early hours of Saturday. Within hours, guards had thrown open the doors to opposition activists and allowed ordinary Ukrainians to tour the opulent, 340-acre complex. The video footage was obtained by activists and aired on local television. 

Yanukovych is believed to be in the eastern city of Donetsk, his home region. The Interior Ministry said that a plane carrying Yanukovych had been denied permission yesterday to leave the country from an airport in Donetsk, which is close to the Russian border.

Ukraine’s parliamentary speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, has assumed presidential powers under a former constitution that weakens the president’s powers. Parliament also moved quickly to replace the presidential cabinet with members of the opposition. Mr. Turchynov is expected to serve as interim president until snap elections are held on May 25.

Regional divisions

With Kiev firmly in the hands of the so-called Maidan opposition movement, attention has turned to the Russian-oriented south and east, Yanukovych’s support base. The industrialized region contains about 43 percent of Ukranian voters, and many have watched the events unfolding in Kiev with alarm, fanned by Russian media reports that depicts protest leaders as nationalistic extremists. 

Some cities in the east and south held small pro-Russia rallies on Sunday.

“Voters in the east and west are very disappointed in the fact that Maidan in Kiev has won,” said Konstantin Bondarenko, a political analyst with the Institute for Ukrainian Policy. “In the worst-case scenario, there could be a split in the country by federalization, which would be ruled by separate powers.”

Under this scenario, Russia could support pro-Moscow eastern regions and a political party of Yanukovych supporters, said Zurab Alasaniya, the editor in chief for, a news website in Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine.

Protesters in Kiev have cheered the downfall of a corrupt administration, but they have also criticized the opposition politicians to whom the spoils of victory have fallen. A common mantra is that Ukraine needs a complete “reboot” of its government and of its political establishment, including opposition leaders who are seen as too weak and divided to pull the country through its current crisis.

Among them is former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a longtime rival of Yanukovych and key player in the 2004 "Orange Revolution." She was released yesterday from jail and made an appearance at a protest rallyShe had served nearly three years in jail on corruption charges she says were trumped up by her rival.

Protesters complain that Ms. Tymoshenko, a natural-gas tycoon, is part of the old guard of corrupt oligarchs and, for all her populist rhetoric, not so different from Yanukovych.

“We need someone completely unrelated to all this past, someone that has nothing to do with these people who got us in to this horrible situation in the first place,” said Vladimir Nichiporenko, a driver from Kiev who joined the protests.

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