Ukraine uprising: 'He has gone. He has gone. Glory to our brave heroes' - as President Yanukovych flees to the east, his beleaguered people taste freedom

Parliament votes to strip him of power and free former PM Yulia Tymoshenko from prison

The news of the resignation came to the crowds as they had spread out across the 180 rolling hectares of the presidential estate. The cheers rose first from those around the main mansion, fanned by the riverside walk, then the yacht hanger, the transported Roman arch, the private zoo, then the dairy and the hothouses for exotic plants. "He has gone, he has gone," began the chants. "Glory to our brave heroes."

It became clear a little later that although Viktor Yanukovych had indeed fled Kiev, he had refused to fall on his sword. Instead, he was in Kharkiv, among his loyalists, bitterly accusing his opponents of carrying out a coup and vowing not to give up.

The latest dramatic twist in the most momentous day in the 23 years of Ukraine's current independence had the opposition taking over the capital and most of the west of country; parliament voting to strip the President of power, as well as the freeing of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister. As she was being driven away from jail, Mr Yanukovych's implacable adversary declared: "Our homeland will, from today on, be able to see the sun and sky as a dictatorship had ended."

But the rapidly churning day also brought dark clouds as the prospects of descent into a civil war and the possible partition of the country came ominously closer. But that was not the immediate concern of the thousands who had flocked to Mezhyhirya in the city's suburbs to witness the style in which the President and his family had become accustomed to living at the same time as they had struggled with an economic downturn brought about by political instability.

A victim's funeral

The "self-defence volunteers" of the opposition had arrived there in the early hours of the morning after learning that the police and army units guarding the place had fled and there was no sign of Mr Yanukovych and his entourage. This was the first indication of a profound change of fortunes in the country's sustained confrontation.

Inside the President's residence and office were some domestic staff and members of the security service. They were told that any resistance would result in the doors being blasted and imprisonment if they survived.

"The first concern raised by the secret service guys was who would feed the animals and milk the cows. We assured them that free Ukraine would be able to cope with that," said Alex Gorgan, one of the senior activists. "There was a discussion on whether the whole complex should be locked up, but then it was decided that the people must be allowed to see for themselves. We shall carry out an inventory of his personal and official belongings later."

Celebrations in Independence Square

The doors to the residence were locked but members of the public were invited to range freely everywhere else. They took up the offer with alacrity: hundreds of cars soon packed the road to the estate, with families, protesters and the media crowding along.

Leana and Sergei Osanko had brought along their four-year-old daughter, Masha. Mrs Osanko said: "We haven't really had much chance to go out anywhere as a family because of all the troubles. My daughter liked puppet shows, but they had stopped. Once she gets a bit older, I'll explain to her how Yanukovych used to treat us like puppets. He played with us, while living in all this!"

Anton Yevtushenko was standing near by, shaking his head. "Do you know, I am a policeman and even most of us would not have been allowed in here. It was just for the people he trusted." He then hastily corrected himself: "What I meant was that I used to be a policeman, not any longer. Anyway, not even our very senior officers, some of whom have made a lot of money, would be able to live like this."

The President, his two sons and his coterie had amassed a fortune over the years, one of the many complaints directed against him, but his aesthetic taste was called into question. The residence was a strange amalgam of a Swiss chalet, a French period house and a Russian dacha. "Yanukovych Baroque?" someone suggested.

A protester outside the presidential residence

Sergei Lysenko, an art director, had firm views: "I would like to wring the neck of the architect who designed this, but I suppose he was forced to do this. And Yanukovych has been guilty of much more serious crimes than crimes against taste."

In the morning, at Kiev's Independence Square, the Maidan, they were accusing him of being a murderer. Two more bodies of protesters were laid out before the stage, the centrepiece of the city centre area, occupied since the beginning of the current upheaval when Mr Yanukovych refused to sign an accord with the European Union.

Orthodox priests delivered prayers amid wafting incense over the open caskets and bereaved women wept quietly. But this was also a military ceremony, with the helmets and body armour of the fallen pair laid out and the orations full of the need to continue fighting until the false leader had been driven out.

There were denunciations of the agreement signed by the main political parties with the President on Friday, brokered by the European Union, which was supposed to bring the crisis to a close. "The opposition leadership had failed us. They had given our names to something without consulting us. This will not be accepted," said one speaker. "We will not be giving anything up until that criminal resigns and is brought on trial."

Yanukovych speaking on TV earlier today

Later, the news that Mr Yanukovych was in Kharkiv, a region with pro-Russian sympathies, caused apprehension that he might be planning a counter-attack. Groups of protesters, among them a right-wing faction which had been prominent in street clashes with the police, were calling up reinforcements.

Pressing the opposition to accept the compromise deal of last Friday, EU foreign ministers had warned that a failure to do so would lead to draconian action by the government. One of the brokers, Radek Sikorski of Poland, was heard telling a protest leader: "If you don't support this deal, you will have martial law. The army will come in. You will all be dead."

But it was becoming clear that the security forces, at least in the capital and the west of the country, were losing their appetites for the mounting violence that had culminated in the killings of 77 people last week. Such was the sheer lack of any visible sign of law enforcement in Kiev that a man chasing a thief who had taken his money in the city centre gave up after repeatedly shouting for police help. He then tried calling two police stations, but no one answered.

Others, however, were taking advantage of the situation to do a bit of sightseeing, walking up to the parliament and government ministries. "This was something we could not do for four years, ever since Yanukovych took over. Long before the protests, these places were always surrounded by security. He was so paranoid," Oleysa, a business executive, explained.

At the presidential estate in Mezhyhirya, there was a laboratory where official meals were supposedly tested in case of attempted poisoning. "We are checking to see if they actually found any poison, so we can keep it for when he returns," grinned Viktor Tereshchenko, an activist. " All these precautions – but this shows, when your time comes, you have to go."