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Ukraine protests: A look at the key figures

Violence flared in Ukraine starting Tuesday, and hints of turmoil within the government arose Wednesday. Here’s a look at who’s leading the government and the protests.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych gives a speech on TV on Wednesday. (Andriy Mosienko/Pool/EPA)

Viktor Yanukovych, 63

He was Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s candidate in 2004 but lost. Putin came to dislike him after his comeback victory in 2010 finally made him Ukraine’s president. From the industrial eastern heartland of Donetsk, Yanukovych 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.”

Yanukovych had maintained throughout 2013 that he wanted to sign with the European Union, then reversed course at the last minute after an unpublicized eight-hour meeting with Putin. The Russian president 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.

The opposition’s hostility toward Yanukovych is intense and widespread, especially in the country’s west, and the European Union seems to be focusing the blame for the violence on him.

Ukraine opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk addresses a news conference in Berlin on Monday. (Maurizio Gambarini/AFP/Getty Images)

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, 39

He is the leader of the parliamentary faction of the Fatherland Party. This is the party founded by Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister now in prison. Yatsenyuk was at various times minister of economy and foreign minister under Tymoshenko.

Yatsenyuk 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 economic and governing experience.

Vitali Klitschko, left, and other anti-government protesters carry a wounded man Tuesday. (Yury Kirnichny/AFP/Getty Images)

Vitaly 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 E.U. He has declined the post of deputy prime minister.

Oleh Tiahnybok, leader of the opposition political party Svoboda, waits back stage before speaking to the crowd of anti-government protesters on Independence Square on Jan. 25. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Oleh Tiahnybok

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 then.

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