Sevastopol, AP—Ukraine’s acting government issued a warrant Monday for the arrest of President Viktor Yanukovych, last reportedly seen in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, accusing him of mass crimes against protesters who stood up for months against his rule.
Calls are mounting in Ukraine to put Yanukovych on trial, after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and cracked down on protesters. Anger boiled over last week after snipers attacked protesters in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.
The turmoil has turned this strategically located country of 46 million inside out over the past few days, raising fears that it could split apart. The parliament speaker is suddenly nominally in charge of a country whose economy is on the brink of default and whose loyalties are torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.
“The state treasury has been torn apart, the country has been brought to bankruptcy,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leader of the protest movement and prominent lawmaker whose name is being floated as a possibility for prime minister, said in parliament Monday.
The acting finance minister said Monday that the country needs 35 billion US dollars (25.5 billion euros) to finance government needs this year and next and expressed hope that Europe or the United States would help.
Ukraine’s acting interior minister, Arsen Avakhov, said on his official Facebook page Monday that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovych and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians.” At least 82 people, primarily protesters, were killed in clashes in Kiev last week.
Avakhov says Yanukovych arrived in Crimea on Sunday, relinquished his official security detail and then drove off to an unknown location, turning off all forms of communication. “Yanukovych has disappeared,” he said.
Earlier, after signing an agreement Friday with the opposition to end a conflict that had turned deadly, Yanukovych had fled the capital of Kiev for eastern Ukraine. Avakhov said he tried to fly out of Donetsk but was stopped, then went to Crimea.
Tensions have been mounting in Crimea, where pro-Russian protesters gathered in front of city hall in the port of Sevastopol on Monday chanting “Russia! Russia!” Russia maintains a big naval base in Sevastopol that has tangled relations between the countries for two decades. The head of the city administration in Sevastopol quit Monday.
The tensions seem to be driven by Russia, though a representative of the pro-Moscow Russian Unity party played down fears that Crimea could secede, saying that they want to maintain ties with Moscow and a Putin-driven Customs Union but do not want Crimea to break away.
Yanukovych set off a wave of protests by shelving an agreement with the European Union in November and turning toward Russia, and the movement quickly expanded its grievances to corruption, human rights abuses and calls for Yanukovych’s resignation.
“We must find Yanukovych and put him on trial,” said protester Leonid Shovtak, a 50-year-old farmer from the western Ivano-Frankivsk region who came to Kiev’s Independence Square to take part in the three-month protest movement. “All the criminals with him should be in prison.”
Yanukovych has proved politically resilient, rising to top posts in Ukrainian politics despite two runs-in with the law during his youth for assault and robbery. He was humiliated in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned his fraud-ridden victory in presidential elections, but soon came back as prime minister and then as a legitimately elected president in 2010, riding on a wave of popular disappointment in the Orange team.
As president, Yanukvoych moved quickly to consolidate power, wealth, oversee the imprisonment of his top political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, and curb free speech.
But as protesters took control of the capital over the weekend, his allies quickly distanced themselves from him, concerned for their political survival.
With Yanukovych nowhere to be found, parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov assumed presidential powers. Turchinov said Monday that he hopes to form a coalition government by Tuesday.
But emotions are running high among the country’s rival parties. When a leading member of Yanukovych’s party, Oleksandr Efremov, told parliament Monday that he was crossing over to the opposition, an opposition lawmaker got up and waved his fist in Efremov’s face, showering him with insults.
Meanwhile, Yanukovych’s archrival Tymoshenko, the blond-braided heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, is back on the political scene after having been freed from prison.
The EU is reviving efforts to strike a deal with Ukraine that could involve billions of euros in economic perks. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is visiting Kiev on Monday and Tuesday.
Ukraine’s acting Finance Minister Yuri Kolobov said in a statement Monday that Ukraine hopes for an emergency loan within the next two weeks from foreigner partners such as the United States and Poland, and called for an international donors conference to discuss aid to Ukraine.
US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said Sunday the US is ready to help Ukraine get aid from the International Monetary Fund.
The protest movement has been in large part a fight for the country’s economic future—for better jobs and prosperity.
Ukraine’s trading partners are also interested in its large potential consumer market, educated workforce, significant industrial base and good natural resources, in particular rich farmland.
Ukraine has struggled with corruption, bad government and short-sighted reliance on cheap gas from Russia. Political unrest has pushed up the deficit and sent exchange rates bouncing, and may have pushed the economy back into a recession.
Per capita economic output is only around 7,300 dollars, even adjusted for the lower cost of living there, compared to 22,200 dollars in Poland and around 51,700 dollars in the United States. Ukraine ranks 137th worldwide, behind El Salvador, Namibia, and Guyana.