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July 22, 2017

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No regrets over Yanukovych's downfall in hometown

DONETSK, Ukraine--To some he is "a traitor," to others he is "too weak." But residents of Viktor Yanukovych's hometown in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east have no regrets over his downfall.

Ousted by parliament, rejected by his own party and wanted for "mass murder," Ukraine's former president has been abandoned by his erstwhile electoral heartland of Donetsk, the industrial city where he was born in 1950.

"People here are disappointed in Yanukovych," said Tatiana, a young employee of the Donbass coal field where the ex-leader's surprise fall failed to spark a backlash against the new administration in Kiev.

A taxi driver criticized Yanukovych as "too weak," despite the deaths of 82 people in just three days in Kiev last week when security forces opened fire on protesters.

A handful of communist militants and other organizations that once supported Yanukovych have for the past few days gathered on the huge Lenin Square in Donetsk, blasted by freezing winds, in support of an autonomous "Eastern Front" for Ukraine.

But even they have struggled to find words harsh enough to describe the former head of state.

Many are older Ukrainians nostalgic for the Soviet era who believe, in the words of former construction worker Viktor Afinogeyev, that Ukraine's new leaders have "sold out to the Europeans and the Americans."

Afinogeyev and his friends have set up four small red tents decorated with a hammer and sickle — symbols of the former Soviet Union — next to the base of an imposing statue of Lenin.

But this square pales in comparison to Independence Square in Kiev, the epicenter of the pro-EU opposition, with its huge crowds and trench camps.

There is only a crowd of some 20 people, under the watch of two policemen, at Lenin Square — Donetsk, home to around one million people, seems almost asleep.

'We can live together'

Several residents in the city said that Yanukovych — who was vice governor, then from 1997 to 2002, governor of the province of Donetsk — was "legitimately elected" in 2010 as head of state for a five-year term.

And they underline that it is the east of the country that is the ex-Soviet nation's economic heartland, home to most of its industry.

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