Profile: Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovych

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Viktor Yanukovych giving his first news conference in Russia

Viktor Yanukovych has the rare distinction of having been ousted twice from Ukraine's presidency after giant street protests.

Opponents accuse him of having enriched himself, his family and cronies while in power.

A protest against his decision to abandon a far-reaching European Union partnership deal in November 2013 morphed into a huge - and violent - campaign to push him from power.

But it was the deaths of at least 88 people, many of them protesters shot dead by uniformed snipers in 48 hours of bloodshed, that ultimately brought him down.

The killings sent shockwaves around the world.

Under EU pressure he signed a deal to transfer powers to parliament and hold early elections. But within hours he had fled the capital and his administration had crumbled.

As Ukraine's protest leaders and opposition moved to fill the power vacuum, Mr Yanukovych, 63, maintained he was still the lawfully elected president.

As he headed for neighbouring Russia, Kiev's new rulers issued an arrest warrant for his role in the "mass murder of innocent civilians".

Rise to power

Born into the family of a metalworker and a nurse in the eastern town of Yenakiyevo in July 1950, Mr Yanukovych had a troubled childhood.

He was twice jailed for violent crimes in his youth - though his official biography states that his convictions were eventually quashed.

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His reputation was tainted by his 2004 election victory that was later declared fraudulent

"I came from a very poor family and my main dream in life was to break out of this poverty," he once told journalists.

Beginning his career as a transport executive in the Soviet Union's key coal-mining industry in eastern Ukraine, he became a Doctor of Economics - the equivalent of a PhD - in 2000.

He became governor of the Donetsk region, home to more than three million people and the economic powerhouse of Ukraine, less than a year after entering the local administration.

The then President, Leonid Kuchma, appointed him prime minister in November 2002, in a government accused of corruption and economic mismanagement.

As the outgoing leader's protege, he went on to win the 2004 presidential vote. But, after huge protests in Kiev that became known as the Orange Revolution, the election was declared fraudulent and his reputation badly dented.

He rebuilt his political career while the victors of 2004, Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, fell into constant conflict.

He served a second term as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and became Ukraine's most popular politician.

Image source, Getty Images
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Mr Yanukovych won the 2010 election, defeating Yulia Tymoshenko

The 2010 presidential election he won cleanly - according to international observers - defeating arch-rival Ms Tymoshenko.

The following year, she was jailed for seven years on charges of abusing her power, in a trial she insisted was politically motivated,

During his presidency, Mr Yanukovych steered Ukraine towards a closer relationship with the EU.

But then, days before it was due to be signed, he rejected an association agreement in November 2013,

Street protests, the biggest since the 2004 Orange Revolution, erupted and continued for months, reaching a bloody climax between 18-22 February.

With the ousted president on the run, Ms Tymoshenko was freed.

Luxury lifestyle

How he escaped is unclear. But unconfirmed reports placed him first in the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, where he recorded a video message, lashing out at the "bandits" who had taken over Ukraine. There he flew by helicopter to Donetsk but an attempt to fly a plane to Russia was foiled.

Media caption,
The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse takes a look around the presidential retreat

The next reported sighting was in the Crimean peninsula. The trail then went cold, until the ousted president asked for and was granted protection in Russia.

It was clear that Mr Yanukovych had abandoned his private estate outside Kiev in a hurry.

Within hours of his departure, Ukrainians were able to see for themselves the opulence of his palatial retreat, surrounded by 140 hectares (345 acres) of grounds.

The estate, complete with sauna and private zoo, is a stark contrast with the grinding poverty that afflicts many Ukrainians.

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Investigative reporter Oleg Khomenok said the documents were being dried off in the ousted president's sauna

Hundreds of documents were found in a nearby river, revealing lavish spending and alleged corruption.

Russian muscle

Viktor Yanukovych's closest ties and support base have always been with mainly-Russian speaking eastern and southern Ukraine.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Relations with Mr Putin were thought to have become strained but ultimately Moscow gave him sanctuary

Back in 2004, Mr Yanukovych had openly been supported by Russia's President Vladimir Putin, but relations became strained, not least because of a dispute about the cost of Russian gas.

Mr Yanukovych tried hard to shed the image of being "Moscow's man" and when he became president he pointedly made his first foreign trip as president to Brussels, rather than Moscow.

But, with Ukraine's finances in a parlous state, he argued that free trade ties with the EU would jeopardise Ukraine's existing trade with Russia. The EU refused his demand for substantial compensation.

Russia had already started tightening the economic screws with various measures, including a ban on imported Ukrainian sweets.

Billionaire oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, a powerful industrialist and owner of Shakhtar Donetsk football club, was a political ally of Mr Yanukovych until the explosion of violence in Kiev. Energy tycoon Dmytro Firtash has also been a powerful voice in Ukraine's economic policy circles.

And during his time in office, Mr Yanukovych's two sons were influential - businessman Olexander and Viktor Yanukovych Junior, an MP.

With his presidency ending in ignominy and his entourage apparently deserting him, it was sons who went with him as he fled. And it was to Russia that he looked for sanctuary.

At his first news conference after leaving Ukraine, given in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, he spoke against any military intervention or future division of his country.

He made clear he had fled Kiev in fear of life and would not return without guarantees of safety for himself and his family.