Ukraine's acting president calls separatism a 'serious threat' (LIVE BLOG)

A woman places a flower near the site in central Kyiv where an anti-government protester was killed during clashes with police on the night of February 20.

GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: NEW ERA FOR UKRAINE

UPDATE: 2/25/14 5:15 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 5:10 PM ET

YanukovychLeaks

From Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk:

A team of Ukrainian journalists have dug through Yanukovych's abandoned palace and are collecting any documentation they can find on corruption and graft. Of course, it's called "YanukovychLeaks." 

UPDATE: 2/25/14 5:00 PM ET

Klitschko throws his hat in the ring

One of the protests' opposition leaders, boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko, has announced he will run for president.

Here's more from Reuters:

One of the stars to emerge during this unrest was Vitali Klitschko, a heavyweight world champion boxer who became one of the three major protest leaders.

The tall 42-year-old has managed to use his sporting credentials to bridge traditional divides in Ukraine between the more nationalist West and pro-Russia East and South, and as such enjoys wide popularity.

Klitschko announced Tuesday he would stand for president in polls set for May 25, shortly after the electoral commission officially kicked off the campaign for elections.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 4:20 PM ET

Who's in charge?

Senior Correspondent Dan Peleschuk reports from Kyiv:

KYIV, Ukraine — Men respect them, women feed them, and all the young ladies want their photos taken with them.

They’re Kyiv’s masked and armored “self-defense” forces, and they’re the most popular authority around town.

After police and security forces largely withdrew from the capital last week, these volunteer civilians — helmeted heroes to protesters, their erstwhile saviors from sniper fire and police brutality — were left in charge of keeping the peace.

Wielding baseball bats and clad in bulletproof vests, they still man the battle-scarred barricades around Independence Square.

But now they’re also guarding parliament and other parts of the capital, sometimes in tandem with regular police.

Protesters’ deep distrust of law-enforcement agencies means these volunteers have a popular mandate. 

UPDATE: 2/25/14 11:20 AM ET

Yanukovych now has a reason to be on the run

ReutersUkraine's parliament voted on Tuesday to send fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych to be tried for 'serious crimes' by the International Criminal Court once he has been captured.

A resolution, overwhelmingly supported by the assembly, linked Yanukovych, who was ousted on Saturday and is on the run, to police violence against protesters which had caused the deaths of more than 100 citizens from Ukraine and other states and injured 2,000.

The resolution said two of Yanukovych's close allies — former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and former prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka who are also being sought by the authorities — should also be sent for trial at the ICC, which is based in The Hague.

Over the three months of street unrest and anti-government protests, it said, authorities under Yanukovych had systematically abused their power.

Methods of torture, used by police against protesters, included holding activists naked in temperatures of 15 degrees below freezing, it said.

"Parliament asks the International Criminal Court to hold Viktor Yanukovych and other high-level people criminally responsible for "issuing and carrying out openly criminal orders," it said.

Here is one video that captured the police stripping activists in below freezing temperatures (NSFW):

UPDATE: 2/25/14 11:00 AM ET

Tymoshenko: Exit stage left

Former prime minister and recently freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is headed to Germany.

A statement on her website read: "Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has accepted the offer of treatment from German Chancellor Angela Merkel."

She will reportedly be treated at Berlin's Charite Hospital.

Since her release, there has been speculation about whether Tymoshenko would play a political role in Ukraine's future.

Right after leaving prison, a wheelchair-bound Tymoshenko headed to Kyiv's Independence Square to tell protesters, "You are heroes."

Even out of office, she isn't far from power at the moment. The acting president, Olexander Turchynov, is in fact Tymoshenko's close confidante.

Her lawyer clarified on Monday that she had not yet made a statement about running for Ukraine's presidency, as some media reported.

She has, however, ruled out becoming the prime minister.

"I am grateful for the respect this shows, but I ask not to be considered for this post," she said on her website.

In other words, thanks, but no thanks.

UPDATE: 2/25/14 10:20 AM ET

Interim president warns of separatism

Olexander Turchynov, the man chosen to be Ukraine's interim president, warned of the risk of separatism in the aftermath of the clashes and President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster.

While speaking to parliament, Turchynov called separatism in regions with large ethnic Russian populations a "serious threat."

This from The Telegraph's correspondent who's in the Crimean region:

This was the scene yesterday, in the town of Sevastopol:

UPDATE: 2/24/14 5:00 PM ET

What comes next?

Ben C. Solomon and Nadia Parfan take a look at what Ukrainians hope for the future, in this video from Kyiv.

And with that, we sign off on today's live blog. You can follow further developments on our Ukraine Twitter list.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 1:35 PM ET

A larger bloodbath planned?

Hennadii Moskal, a member of recently released Yulia Tymoshenko's party, alleged that Yanukovych and his top law enforcement official had a larger, more sinister plan for Kyiv's Independence Square.

According to the Kyiv Post, "the plan called for surrounding Kyiv’s Independence Square with rooftop snipers whose mission would have been to wipe out the anti-government EuroMaidan protesters. Moskal said he obtained documents outlining the plan and released part of them publicly on his Facebook page in order to ensure that law enforcement officers bring criminal charges against Yanukovych and others responsible for the plan."

Read more at the Kyiv Post.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 12:15 PM ET

Russian rhetoric

In addition to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev calling the Ukraine parliament's ouster of Yanukovych an "armed mutiny," Russia has amped up the language relating to Ukraine:

Russia's foreign ministry issued a statement accusing the interim leaders of Ukraine's government of passing measures "aimed at infringing the humanitarian rights of Russians and other ethnic minorities."

"A course has been set towards suppressing dissenters in various regions of Ukraine by dictatorial, and sometimes even terrorist, means," the statement read, according to the BBC.

This is from the Russian foreign ministry's official Twitter account:

UPDATE: 2/24/14 11:20 AM ET

The place to watch now: Sevastopol

Reports suggest large crowds opposed to the Maidan crowd have amassed in the town of Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea region.

It's also where Yanukovych is believed to have taken temporary refuge before leaving in the morning, according to acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

[h/t Interpreter Mag live blog]

UPDATE: 2/24/14 10:50 AM ET

The EU deal that started it all

The anti-government protests were sparked in November by President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a deal with the European Union.

Now a spokesman for the European Commission says the deal cannot be signed until after Ukraine holds elections:

"The trade and investment agreement remains on the table," said the EC's spokesman Olivier Bailly, referring to the political and trade pact between Ukraine and the EU.

"We are ready to sign this agreement once Ukraine is ready."

Bailly said Brussels — the seat of the EU — preferred to sign the deal with a government elected into office "to make sure this is a full sovereign choice," although he pointed out that did not mean the current government was not legitimate.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 10:00 AM ET

Russia calls Ukraine developments "armed mutiny"

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev accused Ukraine's acting government of coming to power through "armed mutiny."

As Reuters reported:

"We do not understand what is going on there. There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens," Medvedev was quoted as telling Russian news agencies, explaining why Moscow had recalled its Kiev ambassador on Sunday.

"Strictly speaking there is no one to talk to there. There are big doubts about the legitimacy of a whole series of organs of power that are now functioning there," he said.

Medvedev described some of the opposition activists involved in the street protests that led to Yanukovych's demise as "men in black masks with Kalashnikovs who are carving up Kiev," the reports said.

"It will be hard for us to work with such a government," state-run RIA quoted him as saying.

UPDATE: 2/24/14 6:37 AM ET

Ukraine issues arrest warrant for Yanukovych over 'mass murder'

AFP — Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych over the "mass murder" of protesters and appealed for $35 billion in Western aid to pull the crisis-hit country from the brink of economic collapse.

The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation's new Western-leaning team — approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw the pro-Russian leader go into hiding — came as a top EU envoy arrived in Kyiv to buttress its sudden tilt away from Moscow.

Ukraine's new interim head of the federal police said he held Yanukovych and his team of feared security insiders directly responsible for the deaths.

"A criminal case has been launched over the mass murder of peaceful civilians. Yanukovych and a number of other officials have been put on a wanted list," acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

Read the rest on these dramatic developments from Agence France-Presse.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 4:50 PM ET

Russia isn't happy with Ukraine opposition

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced his displeasure with the Ukraine opposition on the phone Sunday to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

He said the opposition has failed to abide by a peace deal signed on Friday — though he didn't mention that Putin's envoy never signed the deal and a lot has happened since then, like Yanukovych's impeachment and disappearance. But hey.

Lavrov told Kerry: "The Ukrainian opposition is deviating from the agreement, having in effect seized power in Kyiv, refused to disarm and continued to place its bets on violence."

UPDATE: 2/23/14 4:16 PM ET

Turchinov makes first statement as interim president

UPDATE: 2/23/14 12:26 PM ET

Dueling world powers keeping close eye on Ukraine, and each other

US national security adviser Susan Rice said on Sunday it would be a "grave mistake" for Russia to send military forces into Ukraine.

Rice made the comment on NBC's "Meet the Press," in response to a question about the hypothetical scenario in which Russia would send forces into Ukraine to restore a government more friendly to Moscow.

"That would be a grave mistake. It's not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see a country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate," she said.

Watch the video from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/23/14 10:45 AM ET

Needing context? Here are the key dates in Ukraine since 1991

If you're looking for a quick history lesson on Ukraine, check out AFP's timeline of major events since the country's independence in 1991, all the way up until last week. Click here for GlobalPost's full coverage of the past week's unrest and major news.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 9:00 AM ET

Oleksander Turchinov, Tymoshenko confidante, becomes acting Ukrainian president

Reuters — The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, the closest confidante of freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, was temporarily handed the role of president on Sunday following the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych.

Yanukovych abandoned the capital on Saturday, heading to his native east where he denounced what he called a "coup d'état."

Parliament on Sunday voted to give Oleksander Turchinov, elected speaker on Saturday, Yanukovych's duties as president.

A presidential election has been set for May 25.

Turchinov, 49, hails from the same city as Tymoshenko, Dnipropetrovsk in southeastern Ukraine, and is deputy leader of her Fatherland party.

Read the rest of this report.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 9:00 AM ET

VIDEO: Exploring Yanukovych's forbidden mansion

On Saturday afternoon, the gates flew open.

Thousands of Ukrainians stormed the recently deserted compound of President Viktor Yanukovych.

GlobalPost's Ben Solomon captured this video account of the surreal scene outside Kyiv through the eyes of one babushka: "My heart can't take everything that's happened here."

 

UPDATE: 2/23/14 8:23 AM ET

A day of mourning

Emotions run high in Independence Square, with ceremonies to honor the dead continuing on Sunday.

As local journalist Olga Rudenko reported for GlobalPost yesterday, the joy many felt after Yanukovych was impeached was marred by grief for those fallen in recent days.

UPDATE: 2/23/14 8:04 AM ET

CCTV footage of Yanukovych fleeing his lavish home with his belongings by helicopter, trucks

UPDATE: 2/23/14 7:49 AM ET

New government in the works

Parliament has given itself three days to form a new government after impeaching Yanukovych and calling early elections.

The speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, has taken charge.

Yanukovych's whereabouts are a mystery, though rumor has it he's hiding out in the east.

Thousands of opposition supporters remain in Independence Square, also known as Maidan, where the atmosphere is calm.

Here's a live look at the square from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 4:15 PM ET

Tymoshenko gets mixed reviews after Maidan speech

Most say they missed her oratorical prowess, but many still on the fence over whether they want her as a leader. It's not going to be an easy in for Tymoshenko.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 3:54 PM ET

Yanukovych tried to bribe his way out of the country

Reuters reports:

Ukraine's border authorities said on Saturday it had refused to allow President Viktor Yanukovich to leave the country, Interfax news agency said.

Armed men had tried to bribe border staff at Donetsk airport in the east of the country to allow the charter flight to take off but they had refused, the agency, quoting an aide of the head of the state border service, said.

Yanukovich subsequently got off the plane and left in a waiting car, it said.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 3:00 PM ET

An emotional Tymoshenko speaks on Maidan from her wheelchair

Thousands cheered in Independence Square as the former prime minister said a "dictatorship has fallen" and begged forgiveness for "all politicians, regardless of political party."

UPDATE: 2/22/14 1:45 PM ET

Tymoshenko lands in Kyiv

"My biggest luck is to come back in totally different Ukraine where dictatorship ended today," she said at Kyiv airport.

Here's the crowd waiting for her in Independence Square:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:35 PM ET

Tymoshenko to run for president

Here's the first video (sorry, no English) of the former prime minister since her release from jail:

She's still in a wheelchair; jail wasn't too kind.

But according to the Twittersphere, she's got big plans:

We're sure to hear more from her as soon as she gets to Independence Square.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:25 PM ET

Yanukovych blocked from flying to Russia

AFP reports:

Ukraine's border police blocked Viktor Yanukovych from flying to Russia and the embattled president is thought to be "hiding" in the country's east, the newly elected Parliament speaker said on Saturday.

"He tried to take a plane to Russia but he was blocked in doing so by border police. He is currently hiding somewhere in the Donetsk region," Oleksandr Turchyno was quoted as saying by Ukrainian news agency Interfax.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 12:00 PM ET

GlobalPost's Olga Rudenko finds mixed emotions in Kyiv

Anti-government protests have been ongoing for three months, and protesters are clearly overjoyed to have something, finally, to celebrate.

Their excitement, however, is marred by the memory of some 70 protesters who died when clashes with police turned violent this week.

The mood in Kyiv's Independence Square, the epicenter of protests, reflects those mixed emotions. Mourners have strewn flowers to honor the dead. Every now and then political talks on the stage stop to give way for prayers.

"It's not a complete victory yet, but this gives us the way to make changes," said Kuchapin, smiling.

Read her full report here.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 11:03 AM ET

Tymoshenko on her way to Maidan

Twitter is abuzz with the news that Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister who was jailed until today, is on her way to join the cause.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 10:41 AM ET

New presidential elections planned for May 25

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:47 AM ET

Pics from GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:40 AM ET

LIVE VIDEO

Live look at Independence Square in Kyiv from NBC:

UPDATE: 2/22/14 9:22 AM ET

Yanukovych speaks up after fleeing

Change appears to be taking hold swiftly after Yanukovych fled to eastern Ukraine. But he appeared on TV Saturday to say though he's moved eastward for a spell, he's not down for the count:

He said that the east of the country remains "safe" unlike Kyiv, and the west. He also vowed to protect the country from criminals and called events in Kyiv a coup d'etat.

Stay tuned for more.

LIVE VIDEO

Live stream of Ukraine's parliament from Espreso TV, a privately owned channel in Ukraine:

 

The view around the president's mansion outside central Kyiv, which by all accounts has been abandoned:


Live streaming video by Ustream

UPDATE: 2/22/14 8:44 AM ET

It may not all be 'glory' from here

The latest from GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv:

....Developments here are unfolding at lightning pace, with the country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, steaming ahead with draft laws aimed at dismantling the Yanukovych regime piece by piece.

By mid-day Saturday, parliament had voted to formally free jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s top rival and the country’s most famous political prisoner.

Parliament also elected a new speaker and interior minister from the opposition Fatherland party, while the country’s interior ministry issued a statement claiming it was shifting its loyalty to the people.

“We bow our heads to the blessed memory of the dead,” the statement said, in reference to the at least 77 protesters killed in clashes with police and security forces last week.

The ministry also urged public cooperation in maintaining law and order in the country, tellingly ending its address with the greeting that has become ubiquitous among Ukraine’s protesters: “Glory to Ukraine!”

Police and security forces appear to have withdrawn from most of central Kyiv, allowing protesters to roam freely around parliament and the presidential administration.

But amid the apparent power vacuum in Kyiv and Yanukovych’s flight to eastern Ukraine, fears remained over the potential threat of separatism in a country still largely split along cultural and linguistic lines.

Particularly worrying was an announcement by Kharkiv Governor Mykhailo Dobkin — a staunch pro-Yanukovych official — of a special congress on Saturday for pro-regime delegates from Russian-speaking southern and eastern Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych and his ruling party remains strong....

Read his full report here, and follow him on Twitter @dpeleschuk.

UPDATE: 2/22/14 5:48 AM ET

Protesters claim control of Kyiv; President Yanukovych reportedly flees

Ukraine's interior ministry transferred its loyalty to "the people" on Saturday in a statement released online.

Parliament voted in a new speaker after Volodymyr Rybakas, an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, submitted his resignation. Yanukovych reportedly fled to eastern Ukraine.

"Masses of journalists and citizens have been flocking to the president's mansion outside central Kyiv, which by all accounts has been abandoned," GlobalPost senior correspondent Dan Peleschuk said from the Ukrainian capital.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on Friday that a deal aimed at halting bloody clashes between government forces and protesters in Ukraine needs to be implemented quickly so that the country stabilizes, a US official told Reuters.

Follow our Twitter list for further developments in Ukraine.

FULL COVERAGE

Ukraine's bloodiest week

Click here to see our full coverage from Feb. 18 of Ukraine's deadliest unrest since independence in 1991.