Leonid Kravchuk, who led Ukraine to independence during the breakup of the Soviet Union and served as the country’s first president, has died, officials in Kyiv have confirmed. He was 88 years old.
Cemented in history as a driving force behind Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence, the former president will also be remembered for agreeing to give up the nuclear arsenal housed on Ukrainian soil, a decision that has come under renewed scrutiny lately.
After becoming the nominal leader of what was then the Ukrainian SSR in 1990, Kravchuk played a crucial role in the downfall of the USSR before becoming president of the newly-independent country in 1991. He was defeated after just one term in the 1994 presidential election, losing to former prime minister Leonid Kuchma.
In 2020 Kravchuk made a brief reappearance on the political stage, working to try and negotiate a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The former leader had been in poor health for some time according to reports, and have undergone heart surgery last year.
“Sad news and a great loss,” presidential aide Andriy Yermak said on Telegram, describing Kravchuk as “a wise patriot of Ukraine, a truly historical figure in gaining our independence”.
“Thank you for the peaceful renewal of our Independence. We’re defending it now with weapons in our hands,” wrote Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov on Twitter, whilst Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko praised Kravchuk as having “talent, a strong character and knowledge”.
Kravchuk’s death comes just one week after that of Stanislav Shushkevich, the first president of post-Soviet Belarus, who died aged 87 after contracting Covid-19.