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FILE – Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk addresses to supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during a campaign rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. Kravchuk, who led Ukraine to independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union and served as its first president, has died, a Ukrainian official said Tuesday, May 10, 2022. He was 88. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, file)
KYIV – 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.
Andriy Yermak, head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, confirmed Kravchuk’s death on the social media app Telegram without giving details of the circumstances. Kravchuk had been in poor health and underwent a heart operation last year.
Kravchuk led Ukraine as its Communist Party boss in the waning years of the Soviet Union, and played a pivotal role in the demise of the USSR before holding the Ukrainian presidency from 1991 through 1994.
He was a driving force in Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and later that year joined leaders of Russia and Belarus to sign an agreement on Dec. 8, 1991, which formally declared that the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
As president Kravchuk agreed to transfer remaining Soviet nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory to Russian control in a deal backed by the United States.
He lost the 1994 presidential election to former prime minister Leonid Kuchma. In 2020 he returned to politics to try to negotiate a settlement as part of a “contact group” for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists had fought Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote on Twitter that with Kravchuk’s signature to the Dec. 1991 agreement disbanding the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire disintegrated.”
“Thank you for the peaceful renewal of our Independence. We’re defending it now with weapons in our hands,” Reznikov wrote Tuesday.
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