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Ukrainian authorities in Kiev announced that they have issued an arrest warrant on charges of murder for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, continuing the rapid reversal of fortunes that saw him impeached and in flight from the capital as his political allies abandoned him.
The Kyiv Post reports that acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced on his Facebook page this morning that Mr. Yanukovych and “other [former] government officials” are wanted for “mass killings of civilians.”
Though the charges do not name the alleged victims, the Post writes that it is "presumed that the investigation centers on whether Yanukovych hired snipers or ordered riot police to shoot EuroMaidan [Independence Square] demonstrators in January and February." At least 100 people have been killed in Ukraine's political turmoil, including at least 75 in the past week.
The apparent manhunt is the latest blow to Yanukovych, who just a week ago sought to use force to crush the protests on Kiev's Independence Square, or Maidan. Protesters have occupied the Maidan since late November, when Yanukovych decided against signing an association agreement with the European Union, which would have set Ukraine on a course that could ultimately result in EU membership.
Yanukovych instead sought support from the Kremlin, which retains strong influence over the eastern half of Ukraine and views the onetime Soviet republic as part of its sphere of influence. Russia eventually offered Yanukovych's government a $15 billion loan to keep Ukraine from toppling into economic crisis.
But after last week's deadly violence, Yanukovych's grip on power quickly began to crumble. On Friday, he signed an EU-brokered deal with opposition leaders to reform the Constitution – reducing presidential powers – and hold early elections in December. But the Rada, Ukraine's parliament, quickly moved to go even further, voting Yanukovych's top enforcer, the interior minister, out of office; repealing the ministry's "antiterrorist" campaign, which was seen as the facade for an antiprotester crackdown; and freeing Yanukovych's top political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
And over the weekend, Yanukovych's political support virtually disappeared. The Rada on Saturday voted unanimously to impeach him for "massive human rights violations and abandonment of his duties," the Post reported, replacing him temporarily with Oleksandr Turchynov, a Tymoshenko ally, until elections in May. In a statement on its website, Yanukovych's Party of Regions denounced his apparent flight from the capital as "cowardice," and stated, "All responsibility for [the recent violence] lies with Yanukovych and his close entourage."
But The Christian Science Monitor's Kiev correspondent reports that despite Yanukovych's apparent departure from the stage, Ukraine is not out of the woods. The country's eastern population, whose support put Yanukovych in power in an election regarded by independent observers as free and fair, remains deeply concerned over events in Kiev.
“Voters in the east and west are very disappointed in that 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 Mediaport.com, a news website in Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine.
It also remains unclear how the opposition will move ahead. Despite their unity against Yanukovych, the opposition is a divided group without a single leader steering its political ship. The now-released Ms. Tymoshenko is perhaps the best placed of the opposition leaders to take the country's helm, but she is also regarded as part of the Ukrainian elite from whom the country needs to break.
Protesters complain that 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.