A deal was signed Friday to end the crisis in Ukraine; protesters have been gathered since November to demonstrate against an agreement that moved the country closer to Russia and away from Europe. Here’s a look at the key people and institutions involved.
Viktor Yanukovych, 63
Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, had maintained throughout 2013 that he wanted to sign an agreement to get closer to the European Union, then reversed course at the last minute after an unpublicized eight-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin apparently laid out for him how much damage Russia could do to Ukraine’s economy and how difficult that would make Yanukovych’s bid for reelection in 2015.
He was Putin’s candidate for president of Ukraine in 2004, but lost. Putin came to dislike Yanukovych after his comeback victory in 2010 finally made him president.
Yanukovych, from the industrial eastern heartland of Donetsk, served time in prison in the Soviet era for assault. As president, he has showered his immediate circle of Donetsk cronies with favors. Now everyone in Ukraine calls them “The Family.”
The opposition’s hostility toward Yanukovych is intense and widespread, especially in the country’s west, and the European Union had been focusing the blame for the violence on him.
Protesters have said they won’t leave the Maidan, or Independence Square, in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, until he’s out of the presidency.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, 39
Yatsenyuk is the leader of the parliamentary faction of the Fatherland Party, which was founded by Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who is now in prison. Yatsenyuk served as minister of economy and foreign minister under Tymoshenko.
Yatsenyuk, an economist and lawyer, has always cast himself as a principled reformer and at times was at odds with Tymoshenko over questions of policy and politics. He ran against her and Yanukovych for president in 2010.
He was offered the post of prime minister Jan. 25 and turned it down. On a leaked call, Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said she believed that Yatsenyuk was the protest leader with the most economic and governing experience.
Vitali Klitschko, 42
The former WBO and WBC heavyweight champion had a knockout-to-bout ratio second only to Rocky Marciano’s. Now he’s in politics, and his party is called UDAR, which means “punch.”
Klitschko has no association with the Orange Revolution or the unpopular governments that followed it, but he is a ferocious critic of Yanukovych. As early as September, Klitschko was challenging Yanukovych to resign if he wouldn’t sign the agreement with the European Union. He declined the post of deputy prime minister in January.
Tiahnybok is the head of the nationalist Svoboda party. Yanukovych did not offer him a position in the government in January. Tiahnybok credited the emergence of fanatical and often nationalistic soccer supporters for a change in Yanukovych’s tone since then.
The agreement reached Friday must still be sold to the thousands of protesters on the Maidan, the opposition stronghold known officially as Independence Square. The protesters have long insisted they would remain in the streets until the president resigned. Scores of people have been killed over the past few days, and the demonstrators are deeply upset about that. A November poll showed that 45 percent of Ukrainians wanted to integrate with the European Union; 14 percent favored a Russian-led trade union.
Lukin, whose second term as Russia’s ombudsman expired Tuesday, was sent to Kiev by Putin for the talks. This seemed to signal a shift by Russia from a stance that the Europeans had characterized as bullying. Lukin is a respected, low-key figure. A statement on the Russian president’s Web site said Putin was sending Lukin to Kiev because he “has extensive experience of diplomatic service, enjoys the respect of human rights activists and used to head a major opposition party.” He was ambassador to the United States from February 1992 to September 1993.
Ukraine’s parliament Friday voted to free Tymoshenko, who has spent more than two years in jail on charges of abuse of office. The European Union, citing “selective justice,” had demanded that she be released, but Yanukovych couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Tymoshenko was wildly popular when she dramatically became the personification of the Orange Revolution nine years ago, but her two stints as prime minister were troubled and complicated. Her supporters are passionate. So are her detractors.
The Verkhovna Rada on Friday voted for a return to the 2004 constitution, which gives the parliament, not the president, the power to pick the prime minister and most of the Cabinet. It gives the prime minister — a post that has been vacant since Mykola Azarov resigned Jan. 28 — most of the power to run the government. On Thursday, lawmakers voted to call on the police to withdraw from the Maidan, a move that challenged the president’s power to crack down on protesters. Many of Yanukovych’s loyalists were not there for that vote. The Rada is a unicameral body with 450 seats, 442 of which are currently filled.
Riot police called Berkut, which operate under the Interior Ministry and are descended from an elite force in Soviet times, have taken the lead in the clashes. On Friday, the Rada voted to remove the interior minister, who was blamed for violence against the protesters.
So far, military forces have been mainly protecting bases and storage facilities and not engaging with protesters, according to reports. The army isn’t as well-funded or powerful as the Interior Ministry, but it does have heavy weaponry that the opposition and some foreign leaders want to keep out of play. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove have been among the officials encouraging them to stay on the sidelines.