Where in the World is Yanukovych?

With Ukraine’s MPs voting to send the former president to the Hague for trial, Yanukovych’s whereabouts are the question haunting Kiev, Russia and the West.

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters,© Yannis Behrakis / Reuters

That is the question haunting Ukraine. After the bloodbath in Kiev, which left some 100 people dead last week, Yanukovych fled the city, leaving an interim government tenuously in charge. Yesterday, they issued an arrest warrant for the former leader—but his whereabouts remain the object of much rumor and speculation.

“Yanukovych disapeared,” the new interior minister and former opposition MP Arsen Avakov posted in his Facebook in amazingly informal manner. “All night I and the new head of the Security Service of Ukraine Valentin Nalyvaichenko were searching for President Yanukovych.” According to Avakov and other MPs, on February 21, Yanukovych and the ex-head of the president administration, Andryi Klyuyev, were seen departing by helicopter in Kharkiv, in Eastern Ukraine, to take part in a local Party of Regions meeting. It is suspected that they hoped to use the meeting to lobby for the creation of a separate Russian-backed enclave in Eastern Ukraine, in order to hide from prosecutions by the new government.

But the plan appeared to unravel after billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky posted a tweet addressed to Kharkiv’s city mayor Gennadyi Kernes: “My dear Jewish friend [both men are Jewish], Arsen is already interior minister... what do you think, that it's curtains for you today or will they take you tomorrow? I warned you... Give back what you promised... And advice... Don't flash a victory sign in prison, they will not understand you...” Reportedly this tweet scared the separatists and doomed their plotting. A pained Yanukovych made his last and most gloomy video address to the Ukrainian people. “It is a coup d'état, I will not sign any laws voted by MPs and will not resign,” he said, but instead of returning to Kiev to quell the so-called coup, on February 22, Yanukovych instead headed for Donetsk airport.

Meanwhile, parliament stripped the president of all powers and this morning they voted to refer him to the Hague for trial. It was illegal and forced of course, but it seemed to be the only way out from the bloody political deadlock.

In Donetsk, the ex-president reportedly tried to escape in a private plane, but border guards prevented him from taking off. Late on the evening of February 23, theYanukovych motorcade was seen heading to a private resort on the Crimean peninsula. There he was informed that the opposition had taken control of the law-enforcement authorities. The news made him to rush in Belbeck airport, where Avakov and Nalyvaichenko were already waiting for him. Somebody warned Yanukovych about the ambuch so his motorcade stopped en route. Allegedly his guards skirmished with police. Then he stayed in a private mansion and asked his guards who would stay behind and who would remain with him. A part of the team decided to leave him. Yanukovych bade them farewell and relinquished his right to state guards. “The criminal case about mass murders of peaceful citizens was raised, Yanukovych and several others officials are wanted by the police,” Avakov told the press.

Meanwhile protesters and journalists arrived at Yanukovych’s suburban mansion Mezhyhirrya in Novi Petrivtsi, which has become a symbol of catastrophic corruption. Yanukovych illegally turned the state residence into his own private mansion in 2007. After that he rebuilt it and enlarged its bordering territory from 1.8 to 140 hectares. It borders a bay of water where journalists found papers half destroyed by water and fire; 25 rounds for an AK-47 machine gun; and even special underwater cartridges. The last were pulled out of the bay by divers. In one of the documents that survived, Mezhyhirrya’s cost was reportedly assessed at $110 million. Furthermore some black bookkeeping papers were apparently found and amongst them, alleged evidence of dramatic state budget embezzlements, tax evasions, tamperings with judges and bribery of police. Journalists have launched yanukovychleaks.org to showcase all the documents.

Among the other very peculiar things found at the mansion: a 2 kg golden loaf of bread, a bedspread with a naked picture of Yanukovych (which looked pretty disgusting), two vehicle fleets with tens of cars costing between $100,000 to $800,000 each, stuffed birds crucified on wooden crosses, and 24 TV sets. Journalists found even the video collection of ex-president: he prefered films about mafia, gangsters, life in prison and Josef Stalin. One of his DVDs had conspicuous name “Embezzlers of state property”.

In the next day the road to Yanukovych’s mansion was crowded by tens of thousands people and hundreds of cars. Kiev’s mayor organized two buses for those wanting to reach the mansion. People were eager to see the place that, just two days ago, was guarded with state air defense forces and riot police squads. Somebody joked that the tout Kiev had come to see the spectacle: “When the last one leaves the city he or she should switch off the light.” People laughed a bit nervously. They remembered that the escaped owner had only recently tried to extinguish their capital with blood.