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Leonid Kravchuk: Ukraine's first President dies aged 88, says Kyiv

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By AP  with Euronews
Leonid Kravchuk served as Ukraine's first president from 1991 to 1994.
Leonid Kravchuk served as Ukraine's first president from 1991 to 1994.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File

Ukraine's first President Leonid Kravchuk has died at the age of 88, officials in Kyiv have stated.

Kravchuk led Ukraine to independence following the collapse of the former Soviet Union and served as its first president until 1994.

He had joined the former leaders of Russia and Belarus in signing a treaty that formally dissolved the USSR in December 1991.

Andriy Yermak, the head of current President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, confirmed Kravchuk’s death on Telegram.

The 88-year-old had been in poor health and underwent a heart operation last year.

During his presidency, Kravchuk agreed to transfer the remaining Soviet nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory to Russian control in a deal backed by the United States. He also signed a landmark cooperation deal with the European Union.

His Communist Party lost the 1994 presidential election to former prime minister Leonid Kuchma.

He returned to politics in 2020 to try to negotiate a settlement for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists had fought Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Zelenskyy paid tribute to Kravchuk, calling him not just a historical figure but “a man who knew how to find wise words and to say them so that all Ukrainians would hear them.”

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote on Twitter that Kravchuk had helped disintegrate "the Evil Empire" in 1991.

“Thank you for the peaceful renewal of our Independence. We’re defending it now with weapons in our hands,” Reznikov added.

Kravchuk’s death comes a week after that of the first president of post-Soviet Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich. Russia's first President, Boris Yeltsin, died in 2007 aged 76.