KIEV – When the history of the bloody turbulence in Ukraine is written, a 26-year-old who learned combat skills in the army cadets may be recorded as the man who made up President Viktor Yanukovych’s mind to cut and run.
Cars toot a welcome and passers-by press the hand of Volodymyr Parasiuk, a boyish-looking individual who finds it embarrassing to be called a hero.
He reserves that title for his comrades and other protesters among the 80 or so people killed on the capital’s streets last week in three days of fighting against Yanukovych’s police.
But after opposition leaders had signed an EU-brokered deal with Yanukovych to end the conflict, it was Parasiuk who commandeered the microphone last Friday night to turn the crowd against it.
With former boxing champion and opposition leader Vitali Klitschko looking on stone-faced, Parasiuk, from the western city of Lviv, made an electrifying impromptu speech denouncing the opposition for “shaking hands with this killer.”
No one was going to wait for an election later in the year, he said. Yanukovych had to get out of town by the following morning or face the consequences.
To the dismay of opposition leaders, Parasiuk’s emotional address — he broke down on several occasions as he remembered dead comrades — touched a chord deep within the thousands on Independence Square who roared their approval.
The opposition had failed to sell their achievements to the Maidan, the name for both the square and the protest movement.
An agreement, painstakingly negotiated with EU foreign ministers over a sleepless night, was effectively dead.
The writing was on the wall for Yanukovych.
He flew out of Kiev by helicopter that night, Ukraine’s acting interior minister said, and remained on the run as of Tuesday, being sought for mass murder.
“Opposition leaders said they had agreed that there would be early elections in December. This was the Ukrainian people’s last drop of patience,” Parasiuk said during an interview.
“Emotions were overflowing because we had lost a great number of people. Suddenly, these politicians come and say ‘Yanukovych will stay as president and there will be elections.’ I have a clear position. Yanukovych is a terrorist, Terrorist No. 1, for Ukraine,” Parasiuk said.
That Friday night, Yanukovych set off on a zigzag by helicopter and car across eastern and southern Ukraine, looking either for a safe haven or a flight out.
Some believe he may have already decided he was going to flee even before the Maidan gave its thumbs-down to the deal.
Ukraine’s opposition, buoyed by the direct intervention of three EU ministers from Germany, Poland and France, had signed an agreement that seemed to meet many of their demands.
It provided for early elections, a national unity government and return to a previous constitution that would take away from Yanukovych control over the appointment of the prime minister and makeup of the government, and return it to parliament.
Almost immediately, the parliament, where Yanukovych’s grip had been weakened by desertions by deputies from his Party of Regions, began voting many of these proposals into law.
Those who saw Yanukovych sign the deal saw a figure unhappy about what he was giving away, and aware of the risk he ran in a rapidly unfolding drama.
“It was as if he knew more about the dire straits he was in. He did not seem as invincible and aloof as he did before. He didn’t look scared but he did not look so sure,” said one witness to the signing.
Either way, when opposition leaders took the deal to the Maidan for definitive approval Friday night, it blew up in their faces — thanks to Parasiuk’s emotional intervention.
Klitschko and other opposition leaders had already spoken of their achievements in putting a deal together. But there was a mixed reception from the Maidan. Booing, whistling and catcalls gave Parasiuk his cue.
As the crowds carried open coffins of victims to the stage where he and opposition leaders stood, Parasiuk, his voice breaking, jumped to the microphone.
“We ordinary people are saying this to the politicians who stand behind us: ‘No Yanukovych is going to be a president for a whole year,’ ” he said to roars of support from the crowd.
“Our kinsmen have been shot and our leaders shake hands with this killer. This is shame. Tomorrow, by 10 o’clock, he has to be gone,” Parasiuk declared.
Yanukovych was, in fact, gone long before that, flying out of Kiev by helicopter that Friday night to the eastern city of Kharkiv, according to acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Diplomatic insiders say Yanukovych may already have had doubts about whether the agreement could hold. Benefiting from intelligence on the streets, he knew how the wind was blowing.
After Parasiuk’s speech, Klitschko returned and apologized for shaking hands with Yanukovych.
If Parasiuk had not made the intervention he did, someone else would have, one diplomat opined.
Looking back on that heady Friday night, Parasiuk, who headed a “self-defense” unit with a membership of between 40 and 130 fighters, defended his sharp criticism of Klitschko and the other opposition leaders.
“Everything that had been achieved had been by the people of the Maidan. But they had achieved nothing,” he said in an interview in a restaurant in downtown Kiev.
Regarding the new authorities, he said that they must understand that the Maidan is the real power.
“My declaration from the stage had one aim: to tell the opposition: ‘Understand this. That if you do not fulfill our conditions then things will be as we decide, not as you decide.’
“We simply told them: ‘Lads, act decisively because if you don’t, we will,’ ” Parasiuk said.
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