‘My car was shot at’: Yanukovych’s mysterious road to Russia
Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych on Friday gave a partial and sometimes confusing explanation of his whereabouts since his disappearance last week and how he crossed into Russia.
Yanukovych reappeared in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Friday after not being seen in public since February 22.
The deposed leader said he was “forced to flee Ukraine under direct threats to my life and the lives of my loved ones.”
“I didn’t flee anywhere,” he insisted.
He said he initially travelled east by car from Kiev to the city of Kharkiv to join supporters, with the vehicle coming under machine-gun fire as it drove out of Kiev.
“When I was still in Kiev, I was shot at from automatic fire. The car that was sheltering me was practically shot at from all sides,” he said.
He arrived at Kharkiv late at night, but on the morning of February 22, his security service told him to leave, warning that “radically-minded groups” were set to arrive, he said.
“I had no fear,” he stressed. “There were security conditions that were necessary to consider.”
He said he was accompanied at the time by parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak and his chief of staff Andriy Klyuyev.
He then asked them to fly to the eastern city of Donetsk, while he himself decided to fly southeast to Lugansk, close to the Russian border, flying with an unspecified entourage in two helicopters.
– ‘Warned of flight’ –
The helicopters took off but air traffic control and military dispatchers warned them to turn back because they were suspected of fleeing to Russia.
“They allegedly were warned that we were planning to fly to Russia,” he said. “They warned they would send out helicopters, they would send out jets,” he said.
The pilots decided to turn round and land in the south-eastern city of Donetsk, his home town, he said.
From there he travelled by car “practically around Ukraine,” ending up in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea where pro-Russian protesters are opposing the new interim authorities.
“I travelled by road and in the end we arrived in Crimea late at night,” he said.
But again, he said that threats forced him to move on.
“I received calls from members of my family that even my youngest grandson was put on a list of people who must be purged,” he said.
His account broke off here, without any detail of how he arrived in Russia, beyond that he was helped by “officers.”
“I got into Russia thanks to patriotically minded officers — I would put it like that — who carried their duty and helped me save my life,” he said.
He said he was in Rostov-on-Don because an “old friend” lives nearby.
“I came to him to find at least temporary shelter,” he said.