Once loyal Ukrainian security services now scouring the country for ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, wanted on charges of mass murder

Fugitive former president’s opulent lifestyle laid bare as protesters storm his country estate

in Kiev

Viktor Yanukovych, the ruler whose attempt to put down a protest movement with brutal force started his own downfall, is now a fugitive with a warrant issued against him for mass murder.

The former president is on the run with the few in his cohort he can still trust, his hopes of clinging to power seemingly disappearing with each new twist in the drama which has been unfolding in the turmoil of Ukraine.

The whereabouts of the man who just four days ago was bargaining with European Union ministers remains unconfirmed. The last sighting of Mr Yanukovych was said to be yesterday evening in the south of the country, at Balaclava, Crimea's historic battleground which is now a luxury yachting resort, and where one of his sons owns a sailing club.

He was seen in a convoy of three cars accompanied by, among others, one of his closest aides, Andriy Klyuev.

Mr Yanukovych had reportedly arrived there from the city of Donetsk, with arms and cash. Another report had him returning east, to the land from where he had sprung, the coal mining region of Donbas, with its strong pro-Russian sympathies, protected by armed supporters and sympathetic members of the Orthodox priesthood. The country's security service, no longer loyal to Mr Yanukovych, was said to be tracking telephone calls in the area.

These accounts are not from neutral sources. They had come from Arsen Avakov, the new interior minister, and Oleksandr Bryginets, both members of the Fatherland Party, whose leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, the deposed President's implacable adversary, has just been freed from prison, where she was serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of the abuse of her office as prime minister.

But support for Mr Yanukovych has been melting away in the capital even among his own political group, the Party of the Regions. A large number of MPs defected and voted for a Parliamentary motion to remove him from office the day after he disappeared from the capital.

The former President was accused of being personally responsible for the order to open fire on protesters during the attempted storming of the opposition camp at the capital's Independence Square, the Maidan, last Thursday.

 

There has also been deep anger at what was revealed at Mezhyhirya, his country estate in the suburbs of Kiev from where he disappeared. Thousands who had visited the 140 hectare estate have been stunned by its opulence - a private zoo, yacht harbour, car and motorbike collections, a full-scale model galleon - as his people struggled with a falling standard of living brought about by an economic downturn which had accompanied political instability.

Mr Avakov had stated on his Facebook page: "An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened. Yanukovych and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted."

At the Maidan, now covered more than ever with flowers and candles in the memory of more than 80 killed, the cry was for justice and retribution. "My grandson... Mykhaylo, he is just 19 year old, is lying in hospital, shot in the stomach. How can I forgive that man? Tell me," demanded Sofija Yevtushenko. "He must be put on trial; answer to the people."

Soon afterwards, Baroness Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, arrived at the square to lay her own floral bouquet. The visit was supposedly to encourage dialogue between the two sides, but it came across as welcome international support for the victorious opposition. But Mr Yanukovych continues to have support, in the east and the south. Russia, the country these people look to for protection, yesterday withdrew its ambassador from Ukraine. Dmitri Medvedev charged that the opposition administration, which had replaced the government, was illegitimate. The Russian prime minister said: "If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks roaming Kiev to be the government, it will be hard for us to work with that government."

People leave flowers and mourn near a makeshift memorial in homage to anti-government protesters killed in the past weeks' clashes with riot police People leave flowers and mourn near a makeshift memorial in homage to anti-government protesters killed in the past weeks' clashes with riot police (Getty Images)
It remains unclear, however, whether the Kremlin will continue to support Mr Yanukovych himself or, indeed, whether he has the appetite for attempting to return to power. Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister who was part of the EU team brokering a deal between the government and opposition before the former president’s departure, said: "At one point during the conversation his face went pale. We managed to convince him to agree to shorten his term in office, something he had refused to do at first."

His only public appearance since leaving the capital saw Mr Yanukovych call his opponents Nazis and insisted he was still President and would never leave. But, saying hello to border security officials, that is what he had tried to do. He had flown in by helicopter to Donetsk and then attempted to leave, along with a number of officials on two private jets. They were grounded.

After a night of driving, the deposed President reached the Crimean peninsula where, it is said, he learned that Parliament had voted to remove him from office.


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