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 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, confirmed Kravchuk’s death on the social media app Telegram without giving details of the circumstances, the AP reports. 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. Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin died in 2007 aged 76 and the third leader to sign the deal, the first president of post-Soviet Belarus, died a week ago. Stanislav Shushkevich, 87, died following treatment for COVID. 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.
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. Zelensky paid tribute to Kravchuk in his nightly video address, reports the AP. "He was not just a politician, and even not just a historical figure," Zelensky said. "He was a man who knew how to find wise words and to say them so that all Ukrainians would hear them."
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