By Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri
A town in central Armenia on Friday named one of its squares after Viktor Yanukovich, the leader of Ukraine’s main opposition party who had participated in its reconstruction after the catastrophic 1988 earthquake.
Yanukovich personally inaugurated the square in Spitak with Armenian officials as he arrived in Armenia to attend official ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the calamity that killed some 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of others homeless. He had spent six months there in 1988-1989 in his then capacity as head of a Ukrainian construction company sent to the earthquake zone by the Soviet government.
The former Ukrainian prime minister traveled to Spitak from Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city that was also hit hard by the quake and has still not been completely rebuilt. He laid flowers at a Gyumri memorial to earthquake victims and prayed for them in a local church.
“I have come to bow to this long-suffering land and the Armenian people,” Yanukovich told RFE/RL. “I haven’t forgotten anything. I remember how people cried for help in clearing the rubble and rescuing people trapped there.”
“I remember seeing a crane operator dying of heart attack after noticing a woman who shielded her two children with her body,” he said.
Yanukovich met President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan later in the day. Sarkisian thanked him for his role in Spitak’s reconstruction. The Armenian president’s press office said the two men also discussed the current state of Ukrainian-Armenian relations and ways of strengthening them.
Yanukovich’s pro-Russian Party of Regions has the largest faction in Ukraine’s parliament and is expected to do well in the next general election expected soon.