LONDON: Former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for “saving my life” during the bloody demonstrations that led to his ouster.
Yanukovych, currently exiled in Russia, told the BBC that he would like to return to Ukraine one day and blamed the country’s plight on the demonstrators who occupied Kiev’s Maidan Square — the focal point of the uprising against his rule.
Months of protests led to a bloody crackdown that claimed more than 100 lives and ultimately toppled the president.
Yanukovych fled to Russia on February 23, 2014, with the help of Moscow troops.
“The fact that Vladimir Putin took that decision, on the recommendation of his own special forces, that was his right and his business,” he said in the interview, aired on BBC’s Newsnight on Monday.
“I am of course grateful to him for giving the order and helping my security to get me out, and save my life,” he added.
The former leader accused his opponents of mounting a “military coup”, adding: “they’ve broken up the country. They’ve drawn the whole world into this conflict.”
Separatists in the country’s east have been waging a war for independence from Kiev’s new pro-Western leadership since March 2014.
The campaign has claimed the lives of nearly 6,500 and driven more than a million people from their homes.
Yanukovych insisted that he did not give any orders to use firearms against protesters, but admitted he could have done more to prevent bloodshed.
In one of the interview’s more bizarre moments, he defended his opulent mansion, whose gates were thrown open after his departure, saying that the ostriches in the residence’s petting zoo “just happened to be there”.
Ukrainian officials accuse him of embezzling millions of dollars.