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ukraine unrest


Three people were killed in an overnight raid on a base in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, the country’s interior minister says.

The three pro-Russian separatists were killed in a clash with Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook.

The Geneva meeting is the first such gathering since the crisis escalated.

The West says Russia is aiding the pro-Russian activists occupying buildings.

In a live TV phone-in on Thursday Russia’s President Vladimir Putin warned Kiev of “the abyss they’re heading into” in eastern Ukraine and urged dialogue.

Vladimir Putin said the Kiev government, which had “seized power”, had only spoken to its own appointees in the region, but “not to the people whom locals trust”.

Tensions escalated last month when Russia annexed Crimea, causing international outrage. Unrest later spread to Donetsk region, another mainly Russian-speaking area. It is Europe’s worst crisis since the Cold War.

Vladimir Putin is now taking questions from residents of Sevastopol, base of the Russian fleet in Crimea, the first place to feature in his phone-in. It is the first time Crimea has been included in Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in.

Overnight about 300 pro-Russian separatists attacked a military unit in Mariupol near the Azov Sea, throwing petrol bombs. Troops opened fire, killing three, Arsen Avakov said.

The operation is continuing – Ukraine has sent in reinforcements including helicopters. There was no independent confirmation of his statement.

Three people were killed in an overnight raid on a base in Mariupol

Three people were killed in an overnight raid on a base in Mariupol

According to Arsen Avakov, 13 of the attackers were wounded and so far 63 have been detained. He said none of the interior ministry troops had been killed.

It is the heaviest casualty toll in any single incident so far in eastern Ukraine.

Mariupol is in the far south of Donetsk region, where separatists have seized dozens of official buildings.

Ukrainian SBU special forces have gone to the aid of the interior ministry troops in Mariupol and armored vehicles have gone into the city from places nearby, Ukraine’s Unian news agency reports.

Retreating separatists reportedly wounded two passers-by, set a minibus ablaze and also set fire to a building next to the military garrison.

“Through joint efforts by the armed police and national guard the attacking gang was dispersed after a short battle, most of them were cornered and disarmed,” Arsen Avakov said.

“Because it was such an aggressive attack on a military unit – an interior ministry group – we decided to reinforce them with Omega special forces. Helicopters have been deployed.”

According to a report on Russia’s state-run Vesti TV news, unarmed local protesters tried to talk to the Ukrainian troops but were met with gunfire. Quoting unnamed Mariupol residents, the TV channel said shots were also fired at first-aid paramedics.

Some locals say Ukrainian Right Sector ultra-nationalists have joined Kiev’s forces in Mariupol, while separatists have erected street barricades, the TV reports.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea has fuelled concern that other parts of eastern Ukraine could also break away from Kiev’s control and join Russia.

In his TV broadcast, President Vladimir Putin said Russia had “never planned to annex Crimea or take military action there, but threats to Russian speakers there were real”.

He again denied allegations of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine, calling them “nonsense”.

Earlier, President Barack Obama warned Russia against support for further action by armed pro-Russian groups.

“What I have said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences,” he said.

Reports say that the White House is considering a package of non-lethal aid for the Ukrainian military. This may include clothing and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military operation against separatists has hit obstacles.

Called an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Kiev government, it started on Tuesday and is designed to dislodge pro-Russia gunmen from local authority buildings in a swathe of cities and towns in eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Russian activists want referendums on greater autonomy for the south-east or the right to join the Russian Federation.

But in several districts, Ukrainian troops met vehement opposition on Wednesday from pro-Russia militants.

In the city of Kramatorsk, six military vehicles were commandeered by gunmen, who disarmed the Ukrainian soldiers and sent some of them home on buses.

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Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has announced the start of an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists.

Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament it was being conducted “stage by stage, in a responsible… manner”.

Hours later, gunfire was heard at an airbase which officials said had been in the hands of militants.

Oleksandr Turchynov said the airbase at Kramatorsk had been “liberated” from “terrorists”.

Pro-Russian rebels have seized buildings in about 10 towns and cities across Ukraine’s eastern provinces, which form the heartland of Ukraine’s heavy industry.

Thousands of Russian troops are reported to be deployed along the border, kindling fears that any crackdown on the rebels could trigger an invasion.

Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has announced the start of an "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Russian separatists

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has announced the start of an “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists

Russia annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea last month, after it broke away and held a controversial referendum on self-determination.

A crowd of some 200 people remained on Tuesday evening, chanting slogans in favor of a referendum on the region’s future.

A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry expressed “deep concern” at reports of casualties in eastern Ukraine, but these could not be confirmed.

Oleksandr Turchynov said the aim of the operation in the east was to “protect Ukrainian citizens, to stop the terror, to stop the crime, to stop the attempts to tear our country apart”.

Protesters gathered outside parliament in Kiev to demand action against the separatists.

There were reports overnight of gun attacks on rebel checkpoints near the Donetsk town of Sloviansk, where pro-Russian militants seized a police station and a security services building at the weekend.

A police building in Kramatorsk was also seized but the militants there have reportedly now handed back control to the police.

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A crowd of pro-Russian activists stormed a police station in the town of Horlivka, near Donetsk, taking control of the building and ignoring a deadline to leave or face eviction by Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov hit out at “aggression” from Russia, but signaled support for a national referendum.

Oleksandr Turchynov said Kiev was “not against” a vote on the future of the country, a key demand from protesters.

He also said Ukraine was preparing an “anti-terrorist operation” against gunmen occupying government buildings in Sloviansk and a number of other towns and cities.

Correspondents say people in eastern Ukraine are anxiously waiting to see if Oleksandr Turchynov carries through on his threat to use the army against the pro-Russian groups.

In a televised address to parliament, President Oleksandr Turchynov suggested Kiev would be open to moving from a republic into a federation and giving broader rights to Ukraine’s Russian speakers.

The pro-Russian groups who have seized government buildings in eastern regions are demanding local referendums on either increased local rights or an option to join the Russian Federation.

But Oleksandr Turchynov stopped well short of giving in to these demands by showing support for a national referendum, of which the outcome is uncertain because most people in Kiev and the Ukrainian-speaking west reject the idea of federalization.

“We are not against holding a national referendum,” he said.

“I am certain that a majority of Ukrainians will support an indivisible, independent, democratic and united Ukraine.”

He also used the speech to accuse Moscow of open aggression in the east of the country.

“It’s not a confrontation between Ukrainians, but covert and now no longer covert aggression by the Russian Federation against our country,” Oleksandr Turchynov added.

Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov said it was not in Russia’s interests for Ukraine to break up but added that Moscow wanted all citizens of the country to be given equal treatment by Kiev.

He also denied allegations that Russian agents had been fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine and said he was seeking explanation from US of reports that CIA director John Brennan had visited Kiev.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday, Russia urged Kiev not to use force against protesters in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaliy Churkin, called on the government in Kiev to “start a genuine dialogue”.

Vitaliy Churkin warned UN diplomats that there were neo-Nazis and anti-Semites within the ranks of “the self-proclaimed government in Kiev”.

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Pro-Russian activists threw rocks at the police HQ in Horlivka before storming it

Pro-Russian activists threw rocks at the police HQ in Horlivka before storming it

A gun battle has erupted in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kramatorsk, Ukraine’s acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov says.

Arsen Avakov said it began when unidentified gunmen tried to storm local administration buildings and police fired back.

Several other official buildings were reported to have been seized in eastern Ukraine on Saturday.

The confrontations come amid rising tension between the new government and pro-Russia protesters.

Earlier, gunmen occupied a police station and a security services building in the town of Sloviansk. Official buildings in Druzhkovka were also reported to have been taken over.

Several official buildings were reported to have been seized in eastern Ukraine

Several official buildings were reported to have been seized in eastern Ukraine (photo AFP)

A Donetsk regional police chief also quit after pro-Russia crowds marched on a police station demanding his resignation.

Eastern Ukraine has a large Russian-speaking population and has seen a series of protests since the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

The new government in Kiev accuses Moscow of orchestrating the unrest in eastern Ukraine. But Russia denies responsibility.

Protesters in largely Russian-speaking Donetsk, 80 miles from Sloviansk, have been occupying government buildings for days and demanding a referendum on becoming part of Russia.

Trouble continued in several towns and cities on Saturday despite the Kiev government setting a deadline of Friday for all occupations to end.

“Kramatorsk. An attack is under way. Unknown persons fired shots at the district police department. The police are firing shots in response. A shootout is under way,” Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page late on Saturday.

He also reported that an attack on police buildings in Krasny Liman late in the day had been repelled. The gunmen there had been equipped with Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles, he added.

There were no reports of casualties in Kramatorsk or Krasny Liman and Arsen Avakov’s comments could not be independently verified.

Earlier, in the town of Sloviansk, dozens of unidentified armed men in camouflage uniform seized the police station and security service premises.

According to Ukrainian officials, gunmen dressed in camouflage clothing have seized a police station in Sloviansk, near the Russian border.

Police said the gang fired shots and used stun grenades to seize the offices in Sloviansk.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov called the gunmen “terrorists” and said special forces would repel the attack.

Pro-Russian protesters have taken over government buildings throughout eastern Ukraine. Kiev says the unrest is being orchestrated from Moscow.

Protesters in the eastern city of Donetsk, 80 miles from Sloviansk, have been occupying government buildings for days and demanding a referendum on becoming part of Russia.

A similar move prompted a Russian takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region earlier this year.

Gunmen dressed in camouflage clothing have seized a police station in Sloviansk, near Russian border

Gunmen dressed in camouflage clothing have seized a police station in Sloviansk, near Russian border

The US and EU have put sanctions on Russian and Crimean people they say were connected with the takeover.

Russia has denied responsibility for the protests in eastern Ukraine, but Western nations have expressed concern over a build-up of Russian troops along the border.

Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk visited Donetsk on Friday and attempted to placate anti-government groups by guaranteeing that no restrictions would be put on the use of the Russian language.

The Kiev government had set a deadline of Friday for all occupations to end, but trouble continued in several cities in the east.

Regional police spokesman Ihor Dyomin described how armed men were bused to the police station in Sloviansk.

“Six or seven unknown persons got out. They fired several shots in the air and attempted to storm the police department,” he said.

He added that “people in camouflage uniform” and with weapons” were inside the building.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov promised to deal with the attackers.

“The response will be very tough because there is a difference between protesters and terrorists,” he said in Ukrainian on his Facebook page.

In Donetsk, pro-Russian groups continued to occupy the local government building.

Pro-Russian protesters have stormed government buildings in eastern Ukrainian cities Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv.

Protesters clashed with police, waved Russian flags and called for a referendum on independence from Ukraine.

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov called an emergency security meeting.

The unrest comes amid tensions between Russia and Ukraine over the removal of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

In Donetsk, about 50 people broke away from a rally of about 2,000 people in the city centre, and got past a police cordon to enter the regional administration building.

The activists shouted “Donetsk is a Russian city” and raised Russian flags above the building.

Pro-Russian protesters clashed with police, waved Russian flags and called for a referendum on independence from Ukraine

Pro-Russian protesters clashed with police, waved Russian flags and called for a referendum on independence from Ukraine (photo Reuters)

Some called for the region to have a referendum on the region’s independence from Ukraine.

A similar referendum held in the Crimean peninsula in March led to Russia’s annexation.

In Luhansk, near the Russian border, dozens of demonstrators stormed the offices of the state security agency.

Ukrainian media said protesters pelted the building with eggs, a smoke grenade and a firebomb.

Similar incidents were later reported in Kharkiv.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has vowed to protect Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.

President Oleksandr Turchynov has cancelled a diplomatic trip to Lithuania to deal with the unrest, according to his press service.

The statement said Oleksandr Turchynov would hold an emergency meeting with the heads of security services.

Tensions are running high between Ukraine and Russia, with thousands of Russian soldiers still said to be deployed along the border.

Viktor Yanukovych was forced from office in February, following months of street protests.

The new administration has faced continuing opposition from Ukraine’s Russian-speaking regions, particularly in the east of the country.

Russia has said it will defend the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine – which it claims are under threat under the new government – but has said it will not send troops into the rest of the country.

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Ukraine’s government inquiry found that special police forces were behind the killings of dozens of anti-government protesters in Kiev in February.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters that 12 members of the Berkut police had been identified as snipers and arrested.

Arsen Avakov presented what he said was new evidence from the shootings on February 18-20, when 76 people were killed.

Months of mass protests led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.

More than 100 people – including police officers – are now known to have died in Ukraine since the unrest began in November over Viktor Yanukovych’s last-minute rejection of a landmark deal with the EU in favor with closer Russian ties.

Ukraine’s new authorities have since signed the political part of the association agreement with the EU.

Meanwhile, Russia – which backed Viktor Yanukovych – last month annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine following a controversial referendum branded illegal by Kiev and the West.

Ukraine's government inquiry found that special police forces were behind the killings of dozens of anti-government protesters in Kiev in February

Ukraine’s government inquiry found that special police forces were behind the killings of dozens of anti-government protesters in Kiev in February (photo Getty Images)

At a news conference in Kiev, Arsen Avakov presented the initial findings of an initial investigation into the mass shootings that shocked Ukraine and the world.

Most of the demonstrators who died were killed on Instytutska Street near the main protest camp on Independence Square, widely known as the Maidan.

Arsen Avakov gave details of one particular episode where he said the inquiry had established that eight of those killed were hit by bullets from the same machine-gun.

He identified Maj. Dmytro Sadovnyk as commander of a unit suspected of shooting dead at least 17 protesters.

“From the side of the Zhovtnevy Palace, a special squad from the riot Berkut police, wearing yellow armbands, opened fire at the protesters. Much of this fire was targeted. We are carrying out ballistics tests on the weapons,” Arsen Avakov said.

Members of the security services’ special unit Alfa are also believed to have taken part in the shootings, he added.

The interior minister also showed a number of slides and photos illustrating where he said police snipers were firing from. He named two buildings on Khreshchatyk and Kostyolna streets, saying other spots were still being investigated.

And he added that the previous authorities had tried to make the inquiry impossible by burning uniforms, dumping weapons and destroying documents.

A number of those responsible for the shootings are believed to have fled to Crimea.

Ukrainian Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives had been involved in planning operations against the protesters.

He added that the FSB had sent “tonnes” of explosives and weapons by plane to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian authorities also said that the killings of the protesters took place “under the direct leadership” of Viktor Yanukovych.

They said arrest warrants had been issued for the ex-president and Oleksandr Yakymenko, Ukraine’s former security service chief.

Viktor Yanukovych – who is now in Russia – has repeatedly denied the allegations.

In a TV interview on Wednesday, Viktor Yanukovych claimed the shooting in February came from buildings held by protesters.

Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being removed from office last week.

Viktor Yanukovych said at a news conference in Russia he would fight for his country.

He said he was “not overthrown”, but was compelled to leave Ukraine after threats to his life.

Those who drove him from power were “young neo-fascist thugs”, he said.

Viktor Yanukovych said current tensions in Crimea were “understandable” but stated his desire for Ukraine to remain united.

The focus of unrest in Ukraine has shifted to the Russian-majority Crimea region since Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by Western-leaning opponents last Saturday.

It followed a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters who had taken over central Kiev since Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU trade deal in favor of one with Russia last November.

Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being removed from office at a news conference in Russia

Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being removed from office at a news conference in Russia

On Friday, Ukraine accused Russia of carrying out an “armed invasion” in Crimea by sending naval forces to occupy Sevastopol airport. Moscow has denied the claims.

“I intend to continue to struggle for the future of Ukraine, against terror and fear,” Viktor Yanukovych told the news conference in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

“I can’t find words to characterize this new authority. These are people who advocate violence – the Ukrainian parliament is illegitimate.

“What’s going on now is lawlessness, lack of authority, and terror. Decisions in parliament were taken under duress.”

He apologized to the Ukrainian people for not having “enough strength to keep stability” and for allowing “lawlessness in this country”.

Viktor Yanukovych insisted he did not “flee anywhere”, explaining that his car was shot at as he left Kiev for the north-east city of Kharkiv and he was forced to move around Ukraine amid fears for the safety of himself and his family.

He said he arrived in Russia “thanks to a patriotically minded young officer” and was given refuge in Rostov, near the Ukrainian border, by an old friend.

Speaking in Russian, Viktor Yanukovych said he would return to Ukraine “as soon as there are guarantees for my security and that of my family”.

Viktor Yanukovych ruled out taking part in elections planned for May 25, describing them as “illegal”.

He made clear his view that the only way out of the crisis is to implement an EU-backed compromise agreement he signed with opposition leaders last week before he was deposed.

Viktor Yanukovych said the current turmoil in Crimea was “an absolutely natural reaction to the bandit coup that occurred in Kiev” and added that he was surprised by the restraint shown by Russian President Vladimir Putin so far.

He also stressed that “military action in this situation is unacceptable” and said he wanted Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.

Earlier, Ukraine’s general prosecutor said he would ask Russia to extradite Viktor Yanukovych on suspicion of mass murder following the deaths of more than 80 people in last week’s violent clashes between protesters and the police.

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An arrest warrant has been issued in Ukraine for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, the interim interior minister has announced.

Arsen Avakov announced on Facebook that a criminal case had been opened against Viktor Yanukovych and other officials over “mass murder of peaceful citizens”.

Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday after months of protest sparked by his rejection of an EU deal.

A crackdown on the protests last week left dozens dead.

“An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened,” said Arsen Avakov.

“Yanukovych and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted.”

A criminal case has been opened against Viktor Yanukovych and other officials over mass murder of peaceful citizens

A criminal case has been opened against Viktor Yanukovych and other officials over mass murder of peaceful citizens

The statement said Viktor Yanukovych was last seen in Balaklava on the Crimean peninsula on Sunday, but that he had left by car for an unknown destination, accompanied by an aide.

Before leaving Balaklava Viktor Yanukovych gave his state-appointed security detail the choice to leave him, with many choosing to do so, the statement said.

It did not say which other figures were covered by the warrant.

Arsen Avakov – a key opposition figure – was appointed interim interior minister on Saturday, in a day of fast-paced events in parliament.

He replaced Vitaly Zakharchenko, who was sacked the day before after being blamed for the deaths of civilians in the crackdown on protesters.

The protests first began in late November when Viktor Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Ukraine’s health ministry says 88 people, mostly anti-Yanukovych protesters but also police, are now known to have been killed in last week’s clashes.

Viktor Yanukovych insisted on Saturday that he was still Ukraine’s legitimate leader. But he had become increasingly isolated and parliament voted to impeach him and hold presidential elections in May.

Ukraine parliament’s speaker Oleksandr Turchynov has been named as interim president.

Oleksandr Turchynov takes charge following the dismissal of President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday. He told lawmakers they had until Tuesday to form a new unity government.

Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who was freed from jail on Saturday, has ruled out becoming prime minister again.

Her release was one of the conditions of the EU-Ukraine trade pact that Viktor Yanukovych rejected last year.

The move triggered the protests that led to the current crisis.

The health ministry says 88 people, mostly protesters, are now known to have been killed in clashes since February 18.

Thousands of opposition supporters remain in Kiev’s Independence Square, heeding opposition calls not to disperse.

Ukraine parliament’s speaker Oleksandr Turchynov has been named as interim president

Ukraine parliament’s speaker Oleksandr Turchynov has been named as interim president

In response to reports that her name was being mentioned as a possible candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko issued a statement reading: “No-one has agreed or discussed this with me.

“Thank you for your respect but I would like you not to consider my nomination for the post of the head of government.”

Oleksandr Turchynov, a close associate of Yulia Tymoshenko, described forming a unity government as a “priority task”.

“We don’t have much time,” one of the opposition leaders, former world champion boxer Vitaly Klitschko, said as parliament began its debate.

“I want to make Ukraine a modern European country,” he said.

“If I can do that through the president’s position, I will do my best.”

In an address on Saturday, aired before lawmakers voted to remove him, Viktor Yanukovych refused to officially stand down. He is last thought to have been in Kharkiv after travelling there late on Friday night.

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Yulia Tymoshenko has urged opposition supporters in Kiev’s Independence Square to continue their protests.

Ukraine’s former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who has a back injury, addressed crowds from a wheelchair after being freed from detention.

“Until you finish this job… nobody has the right to leave,” she said.

Her speech came at the end of a dramatic day that saw President Viktor Yanukovych removed by the parliament and fleeing Kiev, but refusing to stand down.

Yulia Tymoshenko broke down in tears as she told cheering supporters late on Saturday: “You are heroes.

Yulia Tymoshenko has urged opposition supporters in Kiev's Independence Square to continue their protests

Yulia Tymoshenko has urged opposition supporters in Kiev’s Independence Square to continue their protests

“Because nobody could… do what you have done.”  

“We’ve eliminated this cancer, this tumor,” she said.

However, while Yulia Tymoshenko was hailed by many in the audience, she does not enjoy universal support among the opposition.

Before she went into prison in 2011, Yulia Tymoshenko’s popularity ratings were dropping and many Ukrainians blame her in part for the chaos of the post-Orange Revolution years, or see her as a member of Ukraine’s corrupt elite.

Dozens of people walked away in disgust when she appeared on the stage in Independence Square.

A vote by parliament on Friday paved the way for Yulia Tymoshenko’s release.

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Yulia Tymoshenko has arrived in Kiev’s Independence Square to cheers of thousands, hours after being freed from jail.

The former Ukrainian prime minister is addressing the crowds there from her wheelchair.

Just hours earlier, Yulia Tymoshenko was freed following a vote by parliament on Friday demanding her release.

Yulia Tymoshenko has arrived in Kiev’s Independence Square to cheers of thousands, hours after being freed from jail

Yulia Tymoshenko has arrived in Kiev’s Independence Square to cheers of thousands, hours after being freed from jail

Speaking after President Viktor Yanukovych had left the capital Kiev, Yulia Tymoshenko said a “dictatorship has fallen”.

Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2011 after a controversial verdict on her actions as prime minister.

She left the hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where she had been held under prison guard, and flew to Kiev.

Yulia Tymoshenko told journalists at Kiev airport that those behind violence “must be punished”, the Interfax agency reports.

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In an address televised before Ukraine’s parliament vote to impeach him, Viktor Yanukovych described events in Kiev as a “coup”.

Viktor Yanukovych insisted he was the “lawfully elected president” and compared the actions of the opposition to the rise to power of the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

In his address Viktor Yanukovych also called a raft of votes in Ukraine’s parliament on Friday “illegitimate”, claiming that lawmakers had been “beaten, pelted with stones and intimidated”.

However, he did admit that that some had left his Party of the Regions, calling them “traitors”.

President Viktor Yanukovych also said his ally, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Rybak, was forced to resign because he had been physically beaten.

He added that both Volodymyr Rybak’s car and his own had been fired at.

In an address televised before Ukraine’s parliament vote to impeach him, Viktor Yanukovych described events in Kiev as a coup

In an address televised before Ukraine’s parliament vote to impeach him, Viktor Yanukovych described events in Kiev as a coup

Volodymyr Rybak resigned on Saturday morning citing ill health and was replaced by Oleksandr Turchynov, a Yulia Tymoshenko ally.

Another Yulia Tymoshenko ally, Arsen Avakov, was appointed interim interior minister, replacing Vitaly Zakharchenko, who was sacked on Friday after being blamed for the deaths of civilians in last week’s crackdown on protests.

Before Saturday’s vote to oust Viktor Yanukovych, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Ukrainian opposition of being led by “armed extremists and pogromists” whose actions were a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and constitutional order.

Also before the vote, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski – one of three EU ministers that mediated between the two sides this week – tweeted that there had been “no coup in Kiev”.

Radoslaw Sikorski, along with the German and French foreign ministers, presided over talks that led to a pact on Friday between Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders which now seems to have been overtaken by events.

The deal followed several days of violence in which dozens of people died in a police crackdown on months of protest. It called for the restoration of the 2004 constitution and the formation of a national unity government.

The agreement failed to end the protests overnight with huge crowds remaining in the Maidan calling for Viktor Yanukovych’s resignation.

Ukraine’s parliament has voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on May 25.

The vote came after the opposition seized several official buildings in the capital Kiev and parliament appointed high-level officials.

Viktor Yanukovych described events as a “coup” and vowed not to stand down.

Also on Saturday afternoon, prominent opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was released from detention, hours after parliament authorized the move.

Correspondents say Yulia Tymoshenko was driven away in a car after leaving a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she was being held under prison guard.

Yulia Tymoshenko is now reported to be heading to Kiev’s Independence Square – also called the Maidan – which has been the focal point of anti-government protests.

Lawmakers had voted to pave the way for Yulia Tymoshenko’s release on Friday. She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 after being convicted of abuse of power over her actions during her tenure as prime minister.

Ukraine’s parliament has voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on May 25

Ukraine’s parliament has voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on May 25

Yulia Tymoshenko’s supporters have always maintained this was simply Viktor Yanukovych taking out his most prominent opponent, and her release has always been a key demand of the protest movement.

The opposition is now in effective control of the capital Kiev, with Viktor Yanukovych arriving in Kharkiv, near the Russian border, late on Friday night.

The Interfax news agency reported parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov as saying Viktor Yanukovych had been stopped by border police in an attempt to flee to Russia and was now somewhere in the Donetsk region.

Earlier on Saturday, protesters walked unchallenged into the president’s office and residential compounds.

Ukraine’s army released a statement on Saturday afternoon saying it would not get “involved in the domestic political conflict”.

The vote to “remove Viktor Yanukovych from the post of president of Ukraine” was passed by 328 MPs.

Such ballots, passed by what is called constitutional majority, are binding and enter into force with immediate effect.

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Ukraine’s former PM Yulia Tymoshenko has been freed from jail.

It follows a vote by parliament to release her after President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital Kiev.

Speaking after her release, the Ukrainian opposition leader said “the dictatorship has fallen”.

Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2011 after a controversial verdict on her actions as prime minister.

Ukraine’s former PM Yulia Tymoshenko has been freed from jail

Ukraine’s former PM Yulia Tymoshenko has been freed from jail

The glamorous, fiery orator who helped lead the Orange Revolution – Ukraine’s revolt against a controversial election in 2004 – was convicted of criminally exceeding her powers when she agreed a gas deal with Russia which was seen to have disadvantaged her own country.

Yulia Tymoshenko has always insisted the charges were untrue, inspired by Viktor Yanukovych, the man she helped oust in 2004 who returned to defeat her in the 2010 presidential election.

The EU had demanded her release as one of the conditions of the EU-Ukraine trade pact that President Viktor Yanukovych rejected last year – triggering the protests that led to the current crisis.

Olha Lappo, spokeswoman for the Fatherland party Yulia Tymoshenko leads, said she was heading from prison in the eastern city of Kharkiv to the capital Kiev to join protesters there.

Yulia Tymoshenko’s release was made possible by a European-brokered peace deal between her President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on Friday.

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In fast-moving events on Saturday, Ukraine’s parliament voted for opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to be released immediately.

Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power. Her supporters had always maintained this was simply Viktor Yanukovych taking out his most prominent opponent.

Also in parliament, speaker Volodymyr Rybak resigned, citing ill health. He has been replaced by Oleksandr Turchynov, an ally of Yulia Tymoshenko.

Another Yulia Tymoshenko ally, Arsen Avakov, has been appointed interim interior minister. He replaces Vitaly Zakharchenko, who was sacked on Friday after being blamed for the deaths of civilians in last week’s crackdown on protests.

Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power

Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power

Vitaly Klitschko, leader of the opposition Udar party, repeated his demand for President Viktor Yanukovych’s immediate resignation.

Meanwhile presidential aide Hanna Herman said Viktor Yanukovych had travelled to Kharkiv in the east, close to the Russian border, from where he was to give a televised address.

A gathering of deputies from the south-east and Crimea – traditionally Russian-leaning areas – is taking place there, but Hanna Herman said the president had “no intention” of attending, nor of leaving the country.

An opposition figure has announced to crowds in Independence Square that President Viktor Yanukovych has resigned. This has not been confirmed, but the crowds reacted with huge cheers. The presidential website appears to have gone down.

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According to new reports, the Kiev offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych are unguarded, with opposition protesters apparently in full control of the government district.

Ukraine’s capital is now quiet, a day after deal was signed to end a political crisis in which dozens have died.

As parliament met on Saturday, the speaker, Volodymyr Rybak stood down.

Volodymyr Rybak cited ill health as the reason for his resignation.

Despite the deal signed on Friday, thousands of people have remained on the streets of Kiev.

The Kiev offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych are unguarded, with opposition protesters apparently in full control of the government district

The Kiev offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych are unguarded, with opposition protesters apparently in full control of the government district

There is no sign of security forces inside the previously heavily guarded presidential complex, though some government employees arrived for work.

There are unconfirmed reports that President Viktor Yanukovych has left Kiev, with suggestions that he has travelled to Kharkiv in the east, close to the Russian border.

One group of far-right protesters had threatened to take action if he did not resign by Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, the opposition Udar party, led by Vitaly Klitschko, is to submit a resolution to parliament demanding Viktor Yanukovych’s immediate resignation.

Spokeswoman Oksana Zinoviyeva told Reuters the move would allow parliament to set a date for early elections.

On Thursday, police opened fire on protesters who have been occupying Independence Square in central Kiev. The health ministry said 77 people – both protesters and police – had been killed since Tuesday in the worst violence since protests began in November.

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Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition protesters have agreed to an early presidential poll before the end of the year.

The election is part of a deal to end the country’s political crisis.

The deal has not been published, but Viktor Yanukovych referred to a national unity government and constitutional changes reducing the president’s power.

The compromise came after hours of talks between mediated by three European foreign ministers.

The German and Polish ministers met protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square before announcing their leaders backed the deal.

The agreement was later signed by opposition leaders and Viktor Yanukovych at the presidential administration headquarters in Kiev.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that the deal was a “good compromise for Ukraine” which would open the way “to reform and to Europe”.

Ukrainian broadcaster ICTV said it had seen a copy of the agreement, which included three main proposals:

  • The 2004 constitution will be restored within 48 hours, and a national unity government will be formed within 10 days
  • Constitutional reform balancing the powers of president, government and parliament will be started immediately and completed by September
  • A presidential election will be held after the new constitution is adopted but no later than December 2014

Despite the agreement, isolated outbursts of violence were reported in central Kiev on Friday morning.

Ukrainian health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday, and another 577 were injured

Ukrainian health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday, and another 577 were injured

The police said they had traded gunfire with protesters, and Ukrainian media said riot police were patrolling inside parliament during a session.

Lawmakers once again began the session with scuffles, as the speaker tried to adjourn a debate about constitutional reform.

Viktor Yanukovych announced the deal early on Friday, but initially gave no details.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there had been an agreement that nobody would publicize the deal until it had been confirmed.

However, the president later gave more details and said in a statement that he would initiate the process of constitutional reform and call an early election.

The deal came after the bloodiest day since the unrest began.

Police opened fire early on Thursday after protesters tried to push them away from the makeshift camps they have been occupying in central Kiev.

The health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday, and another 577 were injured.

But activists suggested the death toll was likely to be much higher.

On Friday the US State Department issued a travel warning advising its citizens to “defer non-essential travel” to Ukraine, saying that it had authorized “the departure of all family members of US government personnel from Ukraine”.

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he has reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis, after all-night talks mediated by three EU foreign ministers.

Viktor Yanukovych’s statement said the agreement would be signed later.

However, the French foreign minister voiced caution, saying the deal was not definitive, and the opposition has not confirmed Viktor Yanukovych’s claim.

Protesters and police are still locked in a stand-off in Kiev, a day after dozens were killed in violent clashes.

Hours after Viktor Yanukovych announced the deal, more violence was reported in central Kiev.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he has reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he has reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis

The police said they had traded gunfire with protesters, and Ukrainian media said riot police were patrolling inside parliament during a session.

The protests first erupted in late November when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Thursday was the bloodiest day since the unrest began.

Police opened fire after protesters tried to push them away from the makeshift camps they have been occupying in central Kiev.

The health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday, and another 577 were injured. But activists suggested the death toll was likely to be much higher.

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EU foreign ministers have decided to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials “responsible for violence and excessive force”.

According to a statement released by the EU foreign ministers, targeted sanctions including asset freezes and visa bans would be introduced “as a matter of urgency”.

At least 21 anti-government protesters died in clashes in Kiev on Thursday.

Officials said that one policeman had also died and that 67 police had been captured by protesters.

“No circumstances can justify the repression we are currently witnessing,” the statement from EU foreign ministers said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the “prime responsibility” to get talks between the two sides under way lay with President Viktor Yanukovych.

At least 21 anti-government protesters died in clashes in Kiev on Thursday

At least 21 anti-government protesters died in clashes in Kiev on Thursday

Speaking after an emergency meeting of EU foreign minsters in Brussels, Catherine Ashton said ministers had expressed their “dismay” at the latest violence and had agreed to “suspend export licences for equipment for internal repression”.

Implementation of the measures “will be taken forward in light of developments in Ukraine”, she added.

The EU has until now refrained from imposing sanctions on Ukraine, preferring to emphasise dialogue and compromise.

The US state department had already announced visa bans on 20 members of the Ukrainian government but has not provided any names.

At least 21 protesters were killed by security forces in Kiev on Thursday following the breakdown of a truce the previous day. Officials say 67 people have now died in violence since Tuesday.

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New reports claim that at least 21 protesters have been killed by security forces in Kiev following the breakdown of a truce agreed on Wednesday.

According to eyewitnesses some died as a result of single gunshot wounds, typical of sniper fire.

Officials said that one policeman had died and that 67 police had been captured by protesters.

Meanwhile, three EU foreign ministers have held five hours of talks with President Viktor Yanukovych.

Eyewitnesses have told international news agencies that they have counted between 21 and 27 protesters’ bodies after clashes in Kiev.

Video footage has emerged apparently showing snipers firing on demonstrators who had been trying to retake their protest camp in Independence Square.

Officials said more than 20 policemen had also been injured.

Witnesses reported live rounds, petrol bombs and water cannon being used at Independence Square during this morning’s clashes.

An opposition Twitter feed posted an image of 13 bodies in a makeshift mortuary in the lobby of the Hotel Ukraine.

At least 21 protesters have been killed by security forces in Kiev following the breakdown of a truce agreed on Wednesday

At least 21 protesters have been killed by security forces in Kiev following the breakdown of a truce agreed on Wednesday

The hotel is serving as the base for all foreign media in Kiev.

Earlier, several dozen protesters were using the lobby as a triage centre for the wounded.

Protesters – some of them armed – asked hotel guests for blankets to use as bandages.

A statement on the presidential website blames the opposition for starting the violence, saying the “calls for a truce and dialogue were nothing but a way of playing for time to mobilise and arm militants from Maidan [Independence Square]”.

Opposition leaders called the violence “an act of provocation” by the authorities.

The foreign ministers of France, Poland and Germany conducted five hours of discussions with Viktor Yanukovych, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tweeted.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that he would now stay in Kiev to meet opposition leaders to test a “proposed agreement”, although it was not clear what the details of the agreement were.

Other EU foreign ministers, along with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, have convened at an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss possible sanctions.

They could include a possible ban on sales of equipment that might be used for internal repression.

Separately, the head of the Kiev city administration resigned from Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions.

Thursday had been declared a day of mourning for those killed in clashes on Tuesday.

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Ukrainian police and anti-government protesters are clashing again, despite a truce agreed between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

Some live rounds have been fired but it is not clear by whom. Protesters are throwing petrol bombs, while police are using water cannon.

Three EU foreign ministers are in Kiev for talks before an EU meeting to discuss possible sanctions.

The health ministry says the death toll in protests this week has risen to 28.

Fires burned at the main protest camp, the Maidan, through the night.

Two armored vehicles have been seen in the street leading towards the square.

Thursday has been declared a day of mourning for the dead.

Most of the victims died during clashes on Tuesday – the bloodiest day since the unrest erupted in late November.

Ukrainian police and anti-government protesters are clashing again, despite a truce agreed between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders

Ukrainian police and anti-government protesters are clashing again, despite a truce agreed between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his counterparts from France and Poland, Laurent Fabius and Radoslaw Sikorski, are expected to meet President Viktor Yanukovych and other government officials on Thursday morning.

The EU ministers will also hold separate talks with the opposition.

Ahead of the Kiev visit, Laurent Fabius called the warring sides to “return to dialogue”, condemning the violence as “unacceptable”.

“Perpetrators of these acts cannot go without sanctions.”

The three ministers will then fly to Brussels for a crisis meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and other EU foreign ministers.

They will consider whether to impose sanctions, which could include a ban on sales of equipment which can be used for internal repression.

The Ukrainian opposition has been long pressing the EU and US to impose sanctions against senior government officials believed to be responsible for the violence against protesters.

The EU has so far refrained from such a move, preferring to stress dialogue and compromise.

Meanwhile, the US state department announced on Wednesday it had imposed visa bans on 20 members of Ukraine’s government.

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