Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s 1st president, dies at 88 : NPR


Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk speaks during an election rally in kyiv, January 22, 2019. Kravchuk, who led Ukraine to independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union and was the first president, died. He was 88 years old.

Efrem Lukatsky/AP


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Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's 1st president, dies at 88 : NPR

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk speaks during an election rally in kyiv, January 22, 2019. Kravchuk, who led Ukraine to independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union and was the first president, died. He was 88 years old.

Efrem Lukatsky/AP

KYIV, Ukraine — Leonid Kravchuk, who led Ukraine to independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union and served as its first president, has died, Ukrainian officials said Tuesday. He was 88 years old.

Andriy Yermak, head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, confirmed Kravchuk’s death on social media app Telegram without giving details of the circumstances. Kravchuk was in poor health and had undergone heart surgery last year.

Kravchuk led Ukraine as Communist Party boss in the Soviet Union’s final years and played a pivotal role in the demise of the USSR before serving as the Ukrainian presidency from 1991 to 1994.

He was a driving force behind Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and later that year joined the leaders of Russia and Belarus in signing an agreement on December 8, 1991, which officially declared that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist.

As president, Kravchuk agreed to transfer remaining Soviet nuclear weapons to Russian-held Ukrainian territory, under a US-backed deal.

He lost the 1994 presidential election to former Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma. In 2020, he returned to politics to try to broker a settlement as part of a “contact group” for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists had been fighting Ukrainian forces for 2014.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote on Twitter that with Kravchuk’s signing of the December 1991 agreement dissolving the Soviet Union “the evil empire has disintegrated”.

“Thank you for the peaceful renewal of our independence. We are now defending it with arms in hand,” Reznikov wrote on Tuesday.

Kravchuk’s death comes a week after that of post-Soviet Belarus’ first president, Stanislav Shushkevich, who died aged 87 after treatment for COVID-19, according to his wife.

Since Shushkevich’s death, Kravchuk was the last survivor of the three leaders who signed the 1991 agreement. Russian President Boris Yeltsin died in 2007 aged 76.

Since the annexation of Crimea to Ukraine and its weight behind the 2014 separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to cast doubt on the statehood of the Ukraine and to falsely portray the country as an artificial construct of the communist regime – rhetoric that paved the way for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In a televised address on February 21, three days before the invasion, Putin blamed the “historical and strategic mistakes” of the communist leadership for leading to the collapse of the Soviet state. Ukraine “turned to us for financial support repeatedly from the moment it declared independence,” Putin said in an apparent reference to Kravchuk’s tenure.

Some attendees of the historic Dec. 8 meeting at a hunting lodge in Belovezha Forest, in present-day Belarus, said Kravchuk played the main role in the demise of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine had declared sovereignty after a coup in August by extremist members of the Communist Party weakened the authority of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. A week before the Belovezha deal, Kravchuk was elected president of Ukraine in a vote that also overwhelmingly endorsed his independence from Moscow.

Participants in the Belovezha talks said Kravchuk rejected any effort to keep the Soviet Union going with reforms.

“Kravchuk was focused on Ukrainian independence,” Belarusian leader Shushkevich, who participated in the talks and signed the deal, told The Associated Press in an interview last year. “He was proud that Ukraine declared independence in a referendum and he was elected president on December 1, 1991.”


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