AN ally of the imprisoned former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko walked free from jail yesterday, after the country’s president pardoned him and another ex-minister, moving toward fulfilling a key demand on Kiev’s path to integrate closer with the European Union.
President Viktor Yanukovych signed a decree to pardon former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko, 48, who is serving a four-year sentence on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement. His health has deteriorated since his arrest in early 2010, his supporters and doctors said.
The move came after the country’s human rights official petitioned for Mr Lutsenko, and the presidential commission on pardons recommended that Mr Yanukovych pardon him.
He also pardoned another Tymoshenko ally, the former environment minister, Heorhiy Filipchuk, who was also imprisoned for abuse of office.
Ms Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2011 of abuse of office.
The West has called the cases politically motivated. The European Union has warned that it will not sign a key cooperation agreement with Kiev until those two cases are resolved. Mr Yanukovych also needs Western support as he tries to secure a £10 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Mr Lutsenko stepped out of a prison in the Chernihiv region, about 100 miles north of Kiev, into the arms of his wife, son and supporters who held bouquets of roses. He appeared upbeat and confident.
“Today’s event for me is a victory of Ukrainian democracy,” Mr Lutsenko told reporters. He added that he would continue political activity, including taking part in street protests, though he does not plan to run for president in the 2015 race.
The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, said on his Twitter feed that the pardons were a “first but important step”.
In Poland, president Bronislaw Komorowski said it was a “good step that will help restore a good image of Ukraine.”
Poland is an advocate of Ukraine’s EU aspirations and Mr Komorowski has repeatedly raised the case of Mr Lutsenko and Ms Tymoshenko with Mr Yanukovych. Polish foreign ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki said if “things continue this way, this very important signing of the association agreement in the fall will be possible. We are all counting on it”.
Mr Lutsenko’s lawyer, Valentyna Telychenko, hailed the decision.
“It’s a very important signal that Ukraine still wants to fulfil Europe’s demands aimed at correcting problems in the sphere of justice and elections,” he said.
The lawyer said Ms Tymoshenko should also be freed since she has been convicted of a non-violent crime and she also has health problems.
However, Mr Yanukovych says he cannot unilaterally pardon her until her legal options are exhausted. She is appealing her conviction before the European Court for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, around 4,000 opposition supporters rallied against the government in central Kiev yesterday.