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Ukraine sentences ex-president Yanukovych in absentia to 13 years in prison

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. ( Igor Kruglenko/Wikimedia Commons)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A Ukrainian court has found former President Viktor Yanukovych guilty of high treason and sentenced him in absentia to 13 years in prison over attempts to quash a 2014 pro-Western uprising.

“Yanukovych committed a crime against the foundation of Ukraine’s national security,” Judge Vladyslav Devyatko said in Kyiv’s Obolon district court on January 24.

Yanukovych, 68, was also found guilty of “complicity in waging an aggressive war against Ukraine,” Devyatko said, adding his prison term would begin “the moment he is detained.”

However, he was acquitted of a third charge: taking deliberate actions that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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Yanukovych was pushed from power in February 2014 by a protest movement known as the Maidan, which erupted after he scrapped plans for a landmark agreement with the European Union and said he would pursue closer ties with Moscow.

More than 100 people were killed and 2,500 injured in clashes with security forces, some of them shot dead by snipers.

The former president fled to Russia shortly after his ouster and has not returned.

He has denied all three charges against him, contending that the case is politically motivated, and in November refused to give testimony by video, citing recent surgery.

Yanukovych’s lawyer, Oleksandr Horoshinskyy, announced that the defense would appeal the verdict, saying the trial “has been conducted under pressure from the state from the start.”

The prosecution had asked the court to sentence Yanukovych to 15 years in prison.

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After Yanukovych abandoned his office and fled to Russia, Moscow moved swiftly to seize control over Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government sent troops without insignia to the peninsula, seized key buildings, took control of the regional legislature, and staged a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries at the UN.

Russia also fomented unrest and backed opponents of Kyiv in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have been killed in the ensuing conflict since April 2014.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled in November 2016 that the fighting in eastern Ukraine is “an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.”

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