Yanukovych Emerges From Hiding and Promptly Makes a Fool of Himself

If Marx, riffing on Hegel, is right that all world-historical persons appear twice -- first as tragedy, again as farce -- then on Friday ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych claimed his place among the world's pantheon of delusional and deranged deposed strongmen.

Just last week, Yanukovych established himself as one of the more tragic figures in his country's history, when a brutal crackdown turned from simply violent to downright murderous and security forces opened fire on protesters in Kiev, killing more than 80. And we didn't have to wait long for Yanukovych to make it from tragedy to farce. In a press conference Friday in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, about 125 miles from the Ukrainian border, Yanukovych emerged from hiding and delivered a scathing denunciation of his enemies in Kiev, the revolutionaries who have stripped him of power and proceeded to roll back his government.

Over the course of a rambling conversation with the assembled media, Yanukovych argued that he remains the legitimate leader of Ukraine and that he has been deposed in "a bandit coup" carried out by "a handful radicals."

"It is time for me to say that I'm going to continue fighting for Ukraine's future against those who try to conquer it with fear and terror. I was forced to leave Ukraine because of an immediate threat to my life and the lives of people close to me," Yanukovych said. "The power was taken in Ukraine by pro-nationalist youths, who represent an absolute minority. As you know, Ukraine was seized by pro-fascist activists."

That's what's called throwing the kitchen sink at your opponents, and Yanukovych now bears all the hallmarks of a leader whose political career is all but over. He has been denounced by his own party and largely abandoned by his patron in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Events in Ukraine have now largely overtaken Yanukovych, and the crisis' central flashpoint has shifted to the Crimean peninsula, where soldiers -- reportedly belonging to the Russian equivalent of Blackwater -- have deployed to secure the airports near Sevastopol and Simferopol. Gunmen have also seized the regional parliament, which has voted to hold a referendum on whether the region will break off from Kiev.

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, sharply criticized the moves by forces that he believes are acting on the behest of Russia to provoke a war. "Russia has sent forces into Crimea ... they are working on scenarios which are fully analogous with Abkhazia, when having initiated a military conflict, they started to annex the territory," he said, referring to the breakaway Georgian provinces Russian forces moved to protect during the 2008 invasion of that country.

Despite the stirrings of a conflict that could result in the breakup of Ukraine, Yanukovych is still clinging to the notion that he remains a crucial player in the drama.

For a portrait of a deluded autocrat on the run, just have a look at these snippets from Yanukovych's press conference. (The transcript, courtesy of the Kyiv Post, is available here.)

His car was shot at as he escaped

Q: Are you ashamed of anything?

"I would like to say sorry to the veterans, to the Ukrainian people that I did not have the power to stop the chaos that is happening in Ukraine right now. First of all, I have to say I did not run, I moved from Kyiv to the city of Kharkiv. During my move I was shot at from automatic weapons. The car that covered me was effectively shot at from all sides."

He doesn't understand why Putin has remained so silent

Q: What is the role of Russia in this conflict?

"I think Ukraine [Editor's Note: He obviously meant to say Russia] is our strategic partner. The agreements between Ukraine and Russia, within the framework of those agreements Russia has a right to act. I think Russia must act, and knowing the character of Vladimir Vladimorich Putin, I am surprised that he is so restrained and silent. Those agreements we have with Russia, Russia has a right to act."

That fancy house of his? He doesn't really own it

"There was an offer to buy it. I paid. That house was too old, I had to repair it. Then there was a decision for me to buy it. I paid $3,200,000. The rest does not belong to me. Part of the premises i rented to fulfill my duties as a president. This is a campaign to discredit. I have never had any property. I have never had any foreign account. There are real owners, you will hear from them, and international lawyers will be going to court, because this property is not under Ukrainian ownership."

He never gave the order to shoot

"I never gave orders to shoot. As you know the police were not armed until the last moment when they were attacked. And as you know they protect themselves with arms under the law. I am remembering 2004, when the situation was similar, when my supporters arrived to the railway station, around 40 000 people, and on Maidan there were so-called Orange Revolution people. I went to the train station, and stopped people from bloodshed.

"I told them your mothers, your wives will never forgive you if there are deaths and if there is bloodshed."

He plans to return to Kiev

Q: Are you going to continue your political career?  How are you going to fight for Ukraine?

"As soon as I have a real opportunity and conditions are created and guarantees of my security, including from international mediators, I will immediately go to Ukraine. I can see the way to regulate the crisis.

"Primarily it's the agreement that was signed and not fulfilled on one side. The non-fulfillment of this agreement is fully to blame on the West, hich sent envoys, agreed on all conditions, and discussed all clases at the council that gathered on that day in Brussels.

"I don't think there is a single person in this hall who would derive pleasure from what'a going on in Kyiv. You understand my condition and the condition of my like-minded people and the people who suffer as a result of terror and chaos in the country. I have addressed and would like to address again all participants."

For the curious, here's the full video of his press conference:



Meet the Journalists Exposing Yanukovych's Deepest, Wettest Secrets

When he hastily fled Kiev on Saturday, Feb. 22, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych left behind a monument to corruption: his lavish Kiev mansion filled with a private zoo, a Spanish galleon, and a collection of rare cars. Photographs of his private home, hidden behind imposing gates, were beamed around the world, a vindication of the claims levied by anti-government protesters that they had been doing battle with a fundamentally corrupt regime.

But the most damaging artifacts found at Mezhyhirya, the mansion, were not the peacocks but a huge trove of documents found at the bottom of a nearby reservoir. Since protesters took over the mansion on Saturday, divers have extracted thousands of papers documenting shady money transfers, huge outlays on Yanukovych's personal security, and receipts for extravagant purchases -- such as a $16,000 set of six forks.

A group of Ukrainian investigative journalists are now working to preserve these documents, which constitute crucial archival evidence of the period leading up to last weekend's revolution. More than a dozen journalists, both from the country's top newspapers and international outlets, have now taken up residence in the palace, where they have joined forces to salvage, organize, and publish the documents on a website called

According to Natalie Sedletska, a journalist with Radio Free Europe who is working on the files, the stash now includes some 200 folders, each containing 200 to 600 documents, putting the total somewhere above 40,000 pages. The journalists who first examined the documents "immediately understood that this was incredibly important to get these [documents], if we wanted to prove that Yanyukovych was corrupt," Sedletska told Foreign Policy.

Archivists and librarians advised the journalists to dry the wet documents by putting plain sheets paper on top of them and later provided heaters to expedite the process. Additional investigative journalists were called in as reinforcements to sort the material.

But some of the journalists who came to the mansion tried to make off with documents and score a quick story. "Some journalists came to try to find something catchy and go back to their editorial offices," Sedletska said. But most, she said, kept the greater good in mind and took it upon themselves to salvage and archive the documents.

After beginning to pick through the material, the journalists have developed what Sedletska called an "algorithm" to wade through the trove, taking an hour to look through each folder, picking out the most important documents, and arranging them all to dry. By Tuesday, Feb. 27, all the documents had dried, but the group has since stumbled on many more papers -- "bags of documents" in Sedletska's formulation -- lying around the residence, some of them partially burned.

Among other things, the newly discovered documents include information about Yanukovych's security detail. According to Sedletskha, newly discovered documents show that he used as many as "600 people working as security to guard Yanukovych getting from point A to point B." Many in Ukraine knew Yanukovych felt constantly threatened, she said, but not that he was quite so afraid.

Until they complete uploading the entire trove to the Internet, the journalists working on the documents have agreed to hold off writing stories based on the material. More than a dozen journalists are filing and documenting the papers. At first they photographed the documents, then they moved to digitally scanning them using equipment brought by volunteers. "We are looking forward to writing stories," Sedletska said. "But we agreed among us that we have to scan everything, put it online, and then we can start writing stories," she added.

The team plans to tag the documents to make them searchable on the website. Among the tags: Mezhyhirya, Cash, Luxury.

Expecting that law enforcement will eventually seize the documents, Sedletska said that "it's a race" to get them all online, a job that has the journalists working day and night. "This has to go to law enforcement, so the guilty will be punished. It is incredibly important to save this for history."