Graham Stack in Mezhyhirya -
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the capital Kyiv and his present whereabouts are unknown, though reports of his resignation were denied by advisors.
Yanukovych has vacated his private residence and estate at Mezhyhirya near Kyiv, following a peace agreement reached between the parliamentary opposition and Yanukovych on February 21. The agreement brought an end to days of violence which saw over 75 killed when government forces fired on protestors.
Rumours were swirling that Yanukovych had already resigned, but an advisor to Yanukovych, Hanna Herman, denied the rumours, according to newswires.
At the time the first reports of his resignation came through, crowds had already entered the extensive grounds around Yanukovych's opulent residence by the banks of the Dnipro near Kyiv. Cheers and cries of "Glory to the nation" greeted the reports.
The Mezhyhirya estate, 20 kilometres from the outskirts of Kyiv, had come to exemplify Yanukovych's believed personal enrichment while in office, together with alleged corruption at all levels of government during his three years in power. It was the perception of political corruption and police brutality that has driven the protest movement, ever since Yanukovych failed to sign an agreement that would have brought Ukraine closer to the EU in late November 2013.
The mostly wooded lakeside grounds 40 minutes drive from Kyiv stretch over 140 hectares and include a golf course, greenhouses, ponds, a small zoo, a huge "hunting lodge" the size of an office building, and a smaller official residence in separate grounds. Yanukovych officially rents only the residence, but is widely believed to control the entire property together with associates.
"I have never seen anything like this in my life," said Irena Artymuk, 25, an agricultural scientist, told bne. " I hope we can use this now for a children's hospital and health centre." Irena says she returned from a job in the US to Ukraine to join in the opposition movement against Yanukovych, and has spent the last month protesting on Kyiv's Independence Square, known as the Maidan.
"It should be preserved as a symbol," says Dmytro Khudziy, a 34-year-old lawyer from the West Ukrainian town of Lviv. "It should definitely not be destroyed, we have to show we are a civilized nation. And we must gather evidence to use against Yanukovych."
Khudziy told bne he expects to see Yanukovych go to prison, the banning of his Party of Regions and their allies the Communist Party, and the lustration of all members from official posts.
Although the grounds are open, the Yanukovych residence, the "hunting lodge" and other buildings in the estates remained closed and guarded by the Maidan self-defense units - the unofficial guard units of the protest movement.
In a hangar by the lake banks, journalists were sifting through documents recovered that indicate billions of dollars flowing through Yanukovych-linked structures.
Where is Yanukovych?
Rumours are swirling as to when Yanukovych left and where he has gone since the opposition and president agreed a deal designed to end the violence of the previous 72 hours that had left scores dead. Among the measures agreed was that a new presidential election will be held by December, four months before the next scheduled ballot.
Deputy head of the state guard service, Mykola Reshetnyak, told bne that immediately on signing the peace agreement between the opposition and president on February 21, all troops, special police and security units withdrew from the Mezhyhirya estate - simultaneous with their withdrawal from the presidential administration, parliament and government buildings in Kyiv. "Then we jointly took over the guard duty for all these buildings together with the Maidan self-defence units," he told bne. "This was part of the peace agreement."
Major Serhiy Belous of the state guard service said he had been present with his men on the Mezhyhirya estate for the last three days. "At 9 o'clock this morning [February 22] I dismissed my men and since then I am here alone." Sergei declined to say when he had last seen the president. "I did not have direct contact to him," he said.
According to Oleksandr Zubov, a member of the local Vishgorod Maidan self-defence unit now guarding the estate, "two helicopters left in the night, and perhaps Yanukovych was in one of them. Also five buses left, probably containing possessions," Zubov said. "This morning [February 22] we took over guard duties here."
Reports have variously said Yanukovych has left for the East Ukrainian town of Kharkiv, for his home town of Donetsk, or for Russia or Belarus.
"Wherever he is now, and what ever happens to him, the fact that we the people are here, and he is not means that we all have better chances now for our lives," Irena Artymuk said.
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