Yanukovych: former Ukraine president who 'vanished from history'

20th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Ukraine's ex-president Viktor Yanukovych has vanished from view since his violent suppression of street protests last year sparked an uprising that ended his four-year rule and saw him flee to Russia.

The 64-year-old fugitive, who is wanted in Ukraine on embezzlement charges, has been utterly sidelined by former ally Moscow.

Russia's support for him appears confined to sheltering him from prosecution.

"Yanukovych doesn't have a role any more. He's a figure who has vanished from history, or to put it more accurately, fled from history," said Russian political analyst Alexander Konovalov.

Little is known about how Ukraine's former strongman passes his days.

The last time he spoke at length in public was a week after his flight into exile in late February 2014.

Resurfacing at a press conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don Yanukovych insisted he was Ukraine's rightful leader and that "fascists" had taken power in Kiev.

Media reports since have variously situated him in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the exclusive Moscow suburb of Barvikha and the southern Rostov region, with some reports saying he is depressed and others that he has suffered a stroke.

US director Oliver Stone revealed in December that he had visited Moscow to interview Yanukovych for a documentary.

A picture posted by Stone on Facebook showed the film maker and a leaner-looking Yanukovych standing smiling in a snowy, wooded landscape.

Yanukovych's rule collapsed in the popular uprising that erupted in November 2013 after he ditched a landmark deal with the European Union -- which he had previously backed -- in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

Riot police cracked down on protesters in Kiev's iconic "Maidan" square. More than 100 people were killed in the violence.

Faced with mounting public fury and a rapidly unravelling support base, Yanukovych beat a hasty retreat on February 21 from his plush palace near Kiev, dumping hundreds of sensitive documents in a pond as he left.

He fled to Kharkiv in the east, then Crimea and into Russia -- with Moscow's assistance, as Putin later admitted.

As he was making his getaway, parliament formally removed him from office and protesters overran his estate to gawp at the tawdry treasures he had amassed.

Among some of the more bizarre discoveries they made were a collection of rare pheasants, a gold-plated bidet and a giant portrait of Yanukovych mocked up as a rally driver in blue and yellow overalls -- Ukraine's national colours.

- 'No political future' -

Russia views the chain of events that led to his ouster as a coup orchestrated by Washington -- an argument used to justify Moscow's seizure of Crimea and to curry support for the pro-Russian separatists who took up arms against Kiev in the east weeks after Yanukovych's ouster.

While Putin's rating has soared during the conflict, Yanukovych has drifted into obscurity, with the Russian president dismissing his former counterpart as having "no political future."

In a rare interview with Russia's Argumenty i Fakty weekly in December Yanukovych showed no sign of regrets.

"The only thing I feel responsibility for is that I could not prevent political adventurers helped from abroad from committing a coup d'etat," he said.

- From orphan to president -

Yanukovych was born in the eastern Russian-speaking Donetsk region.

Orphaned at the age of two, Yanukovych has related how he was brought up in abject poverty by his grandmother.

He fell in with a local gang and served time for robbery and assault, but his criminal record was later mysteriously expunged.

For two decades he served as transport manager in Donetsk before moving into politics in the late 1990s, becoming the region's governor in 1997, with close ties to local oligarchs, and eventually prime minister under president Leonid Kuchma in 2002.

In 2004, he was initially proclaimed the winner of an election amid allegations of vote-rigging and charges of interference from Moscow.

The election triggered the pro-democracy Orange Revolution and was eventually declared fraudulent.

Six years later Yanukovych returned to beat Orange Revolution co-leader Yulia Tymoshenko in a bitter presidential contest.

In the years that followed, he became deeply unpopular for his corrupt, lavish lifestyle.

"His excessive desire to use power to enrich himself speeded up the development of the revolutionary events in Ukraine," said Vadym Karasev, a chief of Kiev-based Global strategies institute.

"Through his actions, he speeded up events that could have happened later or not at all."

Interpol in January put Yanukovych on its global wanted list for alleged embezzlement, along with his former prime minister Mykola Azarov and two other senior officials.

Ukraine's prosecutor general last year accused Yanukovych and his allies of taking $32 billion of state funds with them to Russia -- and using some of that money to finance the current eastern separatist revolt.

© 2015 AFP

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