The president of Ukraine is missing and turmoil continues in the country

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's interim government has issued an arrest warrant for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, who is wanted in connection with the deaths of protesters in Kiev's main square last week, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a post published on his Facebook page.

“A criminal case has been initiated into mass murders of peaceful civilians,” Avakov wrote. “A warrant has been issued for the apprehension of Yanukovich and a number of other officials.”

Yanukovich's movements in the last few days have been traced from Kiev to the Crimean Peninsula, Avakov said.

Yanukovich released part of his security detail and with the rest of his guards and in the company of his chief of staff, Andrei Klyuyev, "took off in an unknown direction, having switched off all channels of communication," Avakov said. The area is close to the Belbek airport and near the Black Sea port of Balaklava, where some Russian navy vessels are stationed.

Yanukovich fled the capital Friday, the day after the worst violence in the history of post-Soviet Ukraine claimed dozens of lives, including at least 20 protesters killed by snipers. Hundreds more were injured. As his loyal riot police disappeared from the streets Thursday night fearing vengeance and prosecutions, Yanukovich also went into hiding, his whereabouts unknown.

In a video statement Saturday, a nervous-looking Yanukovich claimed that he still remained in power and was just taking a trip to the eastern regions, hitherto loyal to him, in order to decide what to do next. By the time the video surfaced on the Internet, however, Yanukovich had been officially deposed by parliament.

On Sunday, his own ruling party denounced him as a traitor. “We condemn Yanukovich's flight and lack of guts, and we condemn treachery,” read a statement published Sunday on the Party of the Regions' official website. “We condemn the criminal orders which set up ordinary people and police officers.”

Also on Sunday, parliament turned over presidential powers to its recently appointed speaker, opposition party leader Oleksander Turchinov.

Parliament also voted to nationalize Yanukovich's opulent country estate in Mezhgorye, near Kiev. The takeover ended a longstanding dispute over who owned the 330-acre residence, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Yanukovich allegedly bought the property from the state several years ago by way of front companies controlled by his family.

The opposition holds Yanukovich personally responsible for the carnage in Kiev's central square last week. Leader Yulia Tymoshenko, released from prison Saturday, urged in her speech that night that her sworn enemy, “Yanukovich and his cronies,” be caught and delivered to Independence Square in front of the protesters.

Avakov's statement did not appear on the Interior Ministry's website Monday morning.

[Updated, 5:24 a.m. PST Feb. 24: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday questioned the legitimacy of the recent revolutionary changes in Ukraine.

“Strictly speaking, today we have no one there to talk with,” Medvedev told the Interfax news organization in Sochi. “The legitimacy of a whole number of government institutions there evokes serious doubt.”

“If you consider people in black masks and with Kalashnikovs strolling around Kiev the government, we will find it complicated to work with such government," he said.]

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sergei.loiko@latimes.com