Sailors stand next to a weapons system onboard a Russian Navy vessel anchored at a navy base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, yesterday.
KIEV: Ukraine’s race to succeed ousted Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovich heated up yesterday after his arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko joined a crowded field of contenders ready to tighten Kiev’s embrace of the West.
The charismatic but hugely divisive Tymoshenko’s decision to contest the May 25 poll encapsulates the spectacular scale of change that has swept over the culturally splintered nation since it was first hit by waves of deadly pro-Europe protests four months ago.
The 53-year-old — her hair bleached and braided in a peasant style meant to appeal to her Ukrainian nationalist base — was released from a disputed jail sentence within hours of parliament’s decision to strip Yanukovych of power on February 22.
Yanukovych, who fled to Russia, has become for many a symbol of the cronyism and corruption that has stopped the ex-Soviet nation from enjoying the growth and living standards of other east European states that fell under Kremlin rule after the Second World War.
The deposed leader added fuel to the election-day fire by calling Friday for every region to hold its own sovereignty referendum following the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Russian-majority Crimean peninsula.
“Demand a (May 25) referendum on determining the status of every region in Ukraine,” Yanukovych said in a statement quoted by Russia’s Itar-Tassnews agency. The appeal threatens to reignite separatist passions that gripped the mostly Russian-speaking southeastern swaths of the nation of 46 million once Kiev’s new leaders turned Ukraine on its Westward course.