It's been quite a day in Ukraine so far. President Viktor Yanukovych has fled Kiev, leaving Ukrainians to wander the abandoned presidential estate. Following reports that he had resigned, Yanukovych defiantly appeared on television to say that he was staying. Meanwhile, the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from prison.
We're keeping tabs on the latest developments. Check back with us throughout the day for updates.
According to the Interfax news agency, President Viktor Yanukovych tried to board a plane to Russia, but was stopped and turned back by border officials. Meanwhile, opposition lawmaker Oleksandr Turchynov was chosen as the new speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, making the de facto head of state.
Ahead of Turchynov’s selection, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Rybak, an ally of Yanukovych, handed in his resignation and a number of opposition ministers were appointed to key government posts on Saturday afternoon, a signal of Yanukovych's waning power.
Following her release from a prison hospital, former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko traveled to Kiev and addressed a 50,000-person crowd at Independence Square.
She hailed the demonstrators that had been wounded or killed as “heroes” and urged the crowds to stay put until the revolution is complete:
"In no case do you have the right to leave the Maidan until you have concluded everything that you planned to do."
Careful not to anger Russia, the White House (very cautiously) weighed in on the day's goings on:
"We have consistently advocated a de-escalation of violence, constitutional change, a coalition government, and early elections, and today's developments could move us closer to that goal."
Interfax is reporting that opposition leader and former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from prison. As we noted earlier, Tymoshenko's release has been a major demand of the protesters who believe that she had been imprisoned on bogus, politically-motivated charges. Yesterday, the Ukrainian parliament voted to decriminalize the count under which she was held for over two years.
In a scorching development, it's being reported that the Ukrainian Parliament has voted to oust/impeach/fire President Viktor Yanukovych and hold new elections later in the spring.
This follows Yanukovych's defiant press conference earlier this morning, in which he likened the political crisis to the Nazi rise to power and said that he wouldn't respect any decisions made by the Ukrainian parliament.
Anger and sadness has turned to joy and disbelief (and some confusion) in Ukraine on Saturday morning, after a lawmaker said that President Viktor Yanukovych was preparing to resign. Yanukovych has since gone on TV to rail against what he considers a "coup" and says he no intention of stepping down. However, it's beginning to look more and more as if the decision is no longer his to make.
By all accounts, it appears that Yanukovych has indeed left the capital, and police have mostly given large parts of Kiev over to the protesters. In the most dramatic proof that he has lost his grip on the country, thousands of citizens have entered the presidential home and compound on the outskirts of the city, unchallenged by security, and celebrations, though perhaps premature, have broken out in the capital. While average citizens have been wandering the compound — which includes a private zoo — they refrained from looting, and some guards have been posted to ensure no evidence of his reign is lost or destroyed.
The streets of #Kiev are filled with crowds of happy people. Old people, kids, crying women, and the fighters in helmets with bats.— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) February 22, 2014
Things took a dramatic turn on Friday, when Parliament voted overwhelming to change a law that would allow for the release of former prime minister Yuila Tymoshenko, a rival of Yanukovych, who was jailed on trumped up corruption charges in 2011. Shortly after the vote, MPs removed the speaker of parliament and the attorney general (both allies Yanukovych) from their positions and replaced them with opposition allies. After reports that the president fled Kiev for the city of Kharkiv on Friday night, many government buildings in the capital have simply been abandoned, allowing protesters and other citizens to wander freely among them.
Families, protestors and the media stream into presidential residence outside Kiev pic.twitter.com/EZ9vXMZgsy— Emma Wells (@Emmawells1) February 22, 2014
And in perhaps the biggest sign of victory for the protesters, the heads of four Ukrainian security agencies, including the feared anti-riot police and military intelligence, have "sworn allegiance" the protesters. Most of the demonstrators remain in Independence Square, and vow to stay until Yanukovych is no longer in power.
We'll have more updates on this story as it develops throughout the day.