Political leadership in Ukraine has been turned on its head following widespread protests and international pressure, forcing former President Viktor Yanukovych and others believed responsible for humanitarian crimes into hiding.
Yanukovych was reportedly last seen in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, located in the Eastern reaches of the country where locals are predominantly loyal to neighboring Russia. Rumors first spread Friday that he had fled the capital after agreeing to populist demands for political reforms.
A new government has been formed under interim President Oleksandr Turchynov, a pro-European ally of newly released opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. He has issued a warrant for Yanukovych’s arrest to be brought to trial and answer for his involvement in the deadly police crackdown of months long protests in Kiev and elsewhere.
At least 82 people, including roughly a dozen police officers, were killed last week in violent clashes in and around Independence Square in Kiev, also called "Maidan," which gave its name to the protesters.
The Eastern European nation of 46 million is evenly split in its allegiances to Europe to the West and its former Soviet ally to the East. Concerns remain amid its economic turmoil that growing tensions could split the country in two.
Protests reportedly first began at the end of November over Yanukovych’s decision to accept a multibillion-dollar bailout from Russia instead of signing new economic accords with the European Union. Following months of dissent, as well as new targeted sanctions by the EU and U.S. issued last week, Yanukovych hurriedly agreed to a peace deal Friday in which he would give up some powers and return Ukraine to the system of governance that preceded the 2004 "Orange Revolution."
The deal could allow him to stay in power until December, the deadline for a new presidential election. Many protesters in Maidan insisted he resign immediately.
Arsen Avakhov, the acting interior minister, said on his Facebook page Monday that Yanukovych relinquished his security detail and then fled the capital to an undisclosed location. He was reportedly spotted trying to fly out of Donetsk but was stopped. He then went to Crimea, where it is believed he remains.
Pro-Russia activists have increased tensions in Crimea, reports The Associated Press, where they have gathered outside the city hall to chant “Russia! Russia!”
Yanukovych fled Kiev “in a very orderly fashion,” said U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, while speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. She said the U.S. is on the side of the Ukrainian people.
“The Ukrainian people expressed themselves peacefully. They were met with violence. And that did not end well for Yanukovych,” she said, adding the Ukrainian leader has lost enormous legitimacy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone Friday for roughly an hour, in which they both pledged to support the implementation process of the newly brokered political deal in Ukraine. Rice said Sunday this should include support for keeping Ukraine unified.