Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's First President Who Helped Dissolve USSR, Dies Aged 88
© AP Photo / Efrem LukatskyFormer Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk addresses to supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during a campaign rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.
© AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky
The veteran politician died after an unspecified long illness, according to reports. But earlier it was said that last summer, Kravchuk underwent heart surgery and had been in a coma for some time, after which he was in intensive care.
Leonid Kravchuk, independent Ukraine's first president, died on Tuesday at the age of 88, according to Ukrainian media reports, citing a family source.
The office of the incumbent President Volodymyr Zelensky commented on the death of Kravchuk, calling him a historical figure in the context of the country's independence. This opinion was expressed by the head of the office Andrey Yermak on his Telegram channel.
Kravchuk turned 88 on January 10.
Members of the Ukrainian delegation to the Contact Group on the Donbass issue, which was headed by Kravchuk before the current Russian special military operation, also expressed their condolences on the death of the politician.
Kravchuk died a week after the death of his peer Stanislav Shushkevich, the first leader of post-Soviet Belarus.
Soviet Official Who Contributed to USSR's Collapse
Kravchuk was born in 1934 in the village of Veliky Zhitin near Rovno, then part of Poland's Volhynian Voivodeship.
The future president was educated as an economist and had a degree in economics and worked as a lecturer in political economy in the city of Chernovtsi before entering politics, climbing the party ladder in Soviet Ukraine.
He began his political career as assistant secretary of the Chernovtsi Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU).
© Sputnik / Yuri IvanovPresident of the RSFSR B. N. Yeltsin (second from right), Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus S. S. Shushkevich (third from left) and President of Ukraine L. M. Kravchuk (second from left) sign the Agreement on the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Byelorussian SSR. Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Viskuli government hunting dacha. December 8, 1991
President of the RSFSR B. N. Yeltsin (second from right), Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus S. S. Shushkevich (third from left) and President of Ukraine L. M. Kravchuk (second from left) sign the Agreement on the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Byelorussian SSR. Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Viskuli government hunting dacha. December 8, 1991
© Sputnik / Yuri Ivanov
Overall, Kravchuk's political career can be described as typical for those years, as the politician gradually rose through the ranks, occupying more and more responsible posts from 1970 to 1991, up to the head of the propaganda and agitation department of the Central Committee of the CPU.
In March 1980, he was elected a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR, and from 1989 to1990 he served as head of the ideological department and secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine. In July 1990, he became chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR.
Kravchuk left the party in August 1991, after the August coup in Moscow. The same month, under his leadership, the Verkhovna Rada of the republic proclaimed the independence of Ukraine. He was the Ukrainian parliament's first chairman from August 24 till December 5, 1991.
Kravchuk was elected president of Ukraine in the first direct presidential election on December 1, 1991.
© Sputnik / Dmitryi Donskoy / / Go to the mediabankRussian President Boris Yeltsin (right) talks to the Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (left) while on a walk in Dagomys park, 1992.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin (right) talks to the Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (left) while on a walk in Dagomys park, 1992.
© Sputnik / Dmitryi Donskoy //
However, perhaps the pinnacle of his political life was his participation in the signing of the Belovezhskaya Accords on December 8, 1991, which formally initiated the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which had existed for less than 70 years.
25 December 2021, 15:19 GMT
On that day in Belovezhskaya Forest together with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich, he signed the accords which laid the path for the termination of the existence of the USSR.
Later Life in Independent Ukraine
In July 1994, he agreed to early presidential elections and lost them to Leonid Kuchma. In the presidency, Kravchuk was remembered by contemporaries for the hyperinflation in 1992-1993 and the economic crisis of the first years of Ukraine's independence.
© AP Photo / Greg GibsonPresident Bill Clinton listens as Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, right, answers questions at a joint news conference at Kiev's airport, Jan. 12, 1994
President Bill Clinton listens as Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, right, answers questions at a joint news conference at Kiev's airport, Jan. 12, 1994
© AP Photo / Greg Gibson
In 1992, he signed the Helsinki Final Act, which initiated the process of Ukraine's integration with Europe. On June 19, 1992, he signed a law on the complete exclusion of references to the USSR from the Constitution of Ukraine. In January 1994, he announced Ukraine's renunciation of nuclear weapons.
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After his presidency, Kravchuk was elected several times to the Verkhovna Rada as a parliament member, but after his party did not receive enough votes to enter parliament in 2006, the first Ukrainian president decided not to run again.
Despite his apparent departure from politics, Kravchuk became a fixture in the media field. He regularly lectured, gave interviews and spoke about high-profile events, such as the 2014 coup d'etat.
Beginning in 2015, he led the public organization Movement for Ukraine in NATO. At a press conference in 2016, Kravchuk reportedly said that Ukraine can be proud that it became the state that caused the collapse of the USSR.
© AP Photo / Efrem LukatskyLeft to right, second row; former Ukraine's Presidents Petro Poroshenko, Viktor Yushchenko, Leonid Kuchma and Leonid Kravchuk sing the national anthem during the opening ceremony of the newly elected Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019
Left to right, second row; former Ukraine's Presidents Petro Poroshenko, Viktor Yushchenko, Leonid Kuchma and Leonid Kravchuk sing the national anthem during the opening ceremony of the newly elected Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019
© AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky
In late July 2020, Kravchuk took over as chairman of the Contact Group for the settlement of the conflict in Donbass, replacing his presidential successor Kuchma in this post.
According to the politician, adjustments to Kiev's policy towards the republics of the region should have been made long ago. He at one time claimed that there had been opportunities for the integration of the breakaway republics, but this could not be done without a free economic zone, investment, and, perhaps, even a change in language policy in the interests of the Russian-speaking population.
But this issue must be “delicately” submitted to a referendum so as not to alienate the residents of the country's southeast, he argued.
In the summer of 2021, Kravchuk said that the Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2021 could pose a danger to Ukraine. He said that the Ukrainian army "is ready to repulse any aggressor," and besides, Kiev had the support of the West in the military sphere.
In April 2022, the Crimean Parliament deprived Kravchuk of state awards.
He is survived by his wife, son and extended family.