Anti-Government Ukrainian Protesters Take Kiev

After months of tension between the Ukrainian government and anti-government protesters, the opposition took control of the small nation’s capital and ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Months of conflict in Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, has come to an end…for now. After Ukrainian anti-government protesters overtook parliament, the Council of Ministers building and the Presidential Administration building had gained control of the capital, and parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office. Parliament also voted to free opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abusing her powers as Prime Minister.

Yanukovych fled Kiev on Friday Feb. 21. After signing a peace deal with opposition leaders in an attempt to create some stability, Yanukovych headed to the more Russian-influenced east region of Ukraine. The deal included an early election process and amnesty for opposition leaders, but proved to be futile as the opposition demanded one thing: Yanukovych’s impeachment.

Taking the capital represents a significant victory for the protesters, who, on Thursday of last week, were subjected to the worst violence seen in Ukraine since it left the Soviet Union. Snipers struck down more than 70 unarmed protesters and wounded more than 500. Kiev’s Independence Square (known as Maidan Nezalezhnosti) underwent a shocking transformation as buildings were left scorched and the entire square’s pavement ripped from the ground to serve as barricades from gunfire or as missiles directed at riot police. Hotels and shops were converted to triages to treat wounded protesters.

For country-wide stability, however, much remains to be done. Yanukovych and his supporters in the east have made their position of opposing any new policies instituted by the opposition abundantly clear

“They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign, I’m the legitimately elected president,” Yanukovych said in a televised statement. “What we see today is a coup — I did everything to prevent the bloodshed. We adopted two amnesty laws. We did everything to stabilize the political situation.”

Problems in Ukraine stem from its conflicting Eastern and Western regions. The opposition represents ideals of western Ukraine. They wish to join the European Union and have denounced Yanukovych’s policies that have been criticized for being corrupt and dictatorial. In November, Yanukovych refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union in favor of a closer relationship with Russia and infuriated western Ukrainians.

Ukraine’s eastern region favors bordering Russia. Yanukovych, the region’s most prominent political figure, has been known to have a strong relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Putin injected nearly $10 billion into Ukraine’s economy. Ukraine is also highly dependent on Russia’s sources of natural gas.