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The return of Viktor Yanukovych?

The return of Viktor Yanukovych?


Ousted in 2014, the corrupt former president could be Vladimir Putin’s pick to replace Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine.

Claudia Williams, narrating:

Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the world. 

Today, could Ukraine’s corrupt former president make a comeback?


In February 2014, Viktor Yanukovych, who was then Ukraine’s president, was spirited out of the country under the cover of darkness by helicopter. He was bound for Russia. 

Hours later, his parliament voted to remove him from office. 

Inside the wood-panelled chamber, MPs clapped, cheered and sang Ukraine’s national anthem. It was “good riddance” to Viktor Yanukovych.

[Sound of parliamentarians singing]

Lots of Ukrainians were pleased with the news. 

For months, people had been coming out onto the streets, calling for him to go. 

In Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, they gathered day after day in Independence Square – or Maidan –  to protest. 

[Footage of 2014 protests]

The demonstrations began when President Yanukovych, who was under pressure from Russia, rejected a plan that would integrate Ukraine more closely with the European Union. 

People who wanted closer ties with the EU united with those angry about corruption in Ukrainian politics and creeping authoritarianism under his leadership.

In the main the protests were peaceful. But in February 2014, Ukrainian security services staged a fierce crackdown. 

“ABC News cameras captured brutal scenes. Protesters gunned down by security forces. Fellow activists running to their aid and coming under fire themselves. Snipers lurking in windows.”

ABC News

Dozens of people died.

And that’s when Viktor Yanukovych fled…

But his departure didn’t put an end to Ukraine’s struggles.


Vladimir Putin had lost his man in Kyiv, but the Russian president still wanted to assert his dominance in the region.

Soon after Viktor Yanukovich left, Russian forces invaded Crimea, part of Ukraine that borders Russia…

“Armoured Russian vehicles burst through wall of Crimea’s Belbeck base today. Firing warning shots and throwing sound grenades.”

ABC News

A few months later, Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine also declared autonomy and set up puppet governments in Donetsk and Luhansk.

But now, eight years on, Vladimir Putin has grander aims – he wants all of Ukraine.

The suspicion is that he’ll install a puppet government in Kyiv. 

And one candidate who could be in the running is Viktor Yanukovych.


It’s hard to imagine a less popular person for the job than Viktor Yanukovych – at least among most Ukrainians.  

After he left for Russia, the staggering corruption of his presidency was revealed.  

For the first time, ordinary people got to see the luxury log cabin he had built on the outskirts of Kyiv. 

The house had a tennis court, a sauna and millions of dollars worth of plush furniture. 

Investigations into his finances accused him of siphoning off massive amounts of money into offshore accounts and shell companies.

Accusations he denies.

A few years later, a court found Viktor Yanukovych guilty of high treason for the crackdown on the 2014 protests and the invasion of Crimea. 

Ukrainian prosecutors promised that if he steps foot in the country he’ll be arrested and jailed. 


But it’s not just Ukrainians who dislike their corrupt former president.

Some commentators think Vladimir Putin isn’t that keen on him either

“I think probably the only person that Putin hates more than Zelensy is Viktor Yanukovych because he blames him for being the gutless coward who had one responsibility which was to repress his people for Putin and he didn’t do it instead he cut and ran. So I think he’s looking for a new strong man who he can install and then allow that strong man to enact terrible repressive policies.”

Richard Engle, MSNBC

So could Viktor Yanukovych really replace the legitimate Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky?

He has still got one quality that makes him attractive to the Russian president… he’s loyal… always toeing the Kremlin line…

“I have not been overthrown by anyone I was compelled to leave Ukraine due to an immediate threat to my life and the lives of those close to me. Ukraine’s power has been taken by nationalists pro-fascist young people who represent the absolute minority of Ukrainians.”

AFP News

Days after he was ousted he claimed in a press conference that the country had been captured by fascists and nationalists. 

That’s the same lie that Vladimir Putin has been using to try to justify his invasion of Ukraine. 

If Russia succeeds, he will want to install a leader who will answer to him. Viktor Yanukovych could be his man.

Today’s story was written and produced by Ella Hill.