Former Georgian president—and former governor of Odessa, Ukraine—Mikheil Saakashvili escaped police custody on Tuesday after a crowd of hundreds of supporters dragged him out of the police car into which officers placed him after a raid on his home in Kiev.
Saakashvili had reportedly threatened to jump off his rooftop during his arrest before multiple police officers forcibly removed him from the home.
Following his escape, Saakashvili called for the crowd to assemble peacefully in the capital’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square and demand that President Petro Poroshenko resign.
Saakashvili served as president of Georgia during the 2008 invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia, then was invited to serve as governor of Odessa under Poroshenko as Ukraine suffered its own invasion. Their alliance collapsed after Saakashvili accused Poroshenko and his allies of extensive corruption and called for the creation of a Donald Trump-inspired anti-elitist party to resist both Russian influence and corruption in Ukrainian politics.
Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship upon moving to Ukraine and lost his Ukrainian citizenship upon attacking Poroshenko. He is currently a stateless individual.
The incident began early Tuesday, when masked police officers approached the apartment in which Saakashvili had been staying in Kiev since entering the country against Poroshenko’s wishes in September. According to Saakashvili’s Facebook account, which matches reports from the Kyiv Post, Reuters, and other outlets, police approached the location at 6 a.m. to arrest him.
“The street on which he lives was blocked off and all entrances to his building were blocked. The door to his private apartment was broken down and a search was made of the premises,” Saakshvili’s Facebook post explained. “Thereafter, without allowing Mikhail Saakashvili the assistance of his lawyers, who arrived on the scene, but were kept apart, he was arrested and taken outside and forced into a minivan.”
The UK Telegraph reported that Saakashvili ran to the top of his building and climbed onto the roof, shouting “Poroshenko is a thief! Poroshenko is a traitor to Ukraine!” and threatening to jump off the roof. Police ultimately succeeded in apprehending him.
Once in the police car, however, the crowd prevented officers from driving Saakashvili away. According to video footage and multiple reports, the crowd surrounded the car, prevented it from moving, then forced the back door open, letting Saakashvili out. The crowd then proceeded to haul him away from police as officers fired tear gas.
“Protesters also started building a barricade with tyres, wood and stones—a traditional form of protest in Kiev and reminiscent of scenes from Ukraine’s 2013-14 pro-European ‘Maidan’ uprising,” Reuters adds.
Wow. What a scene. Protesters break free Saakashvili who appears triumphant on the steps of a church waving✌️with handcuffs still on one hand. Then he’s marched with group singing 🇺 national anthem. pic.twitter.com/4oSpT0hIxO
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) December 5, 2017
— Yannis Koutsomitis (@YanniKouts) December 5, 2017
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) December 5, 2017
Saakashvili delivered an impromptu speech upon his liberation.
“The people of Ukraine must gather and oust from power a criminal organization with a traitor of Ukraine, Poroshenko, atop it,” he said, according to the Kyiv Post. “I urge you to start a peaceful protest to remove Poroshenko. You should not be afraid.”
“Let’s go to the Rada [parliament] all together and demand the president’s impeachment,” he urged.
Police were arresting Saakashvili under suspicions that he had allegedly taken money from a group tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “How in the hell would I know these people? Who are they? It’s fake,” Saakashvili said to reporters on Tuesday in English, telling the crowd, “There is no more bitter foe of Putin in the world than me, and the accusation that I am linked to Russia is completely absurd.”
Saakashvili faces up to five years in prison under the charges against him.
Saakashvili, who spent time in Brooklyn, New York, after his expulsion from Ukraine, returned to the country in September thanks to the Polish government, which chose to acknowledge the validity of his passport despite Poroshenko’s decision to strip Saakashvili of his citizenship. His return to Ukraine in September was similarly chaotic, with Poroshenko declaring Saakashvili an illegal immigrant and announcing, “I don’t care who breaks the state border: fighters in the east, or politicians in the west. There should be direct legal accountability.”
Saakashvili lost his passport in the ensuing melee on the border, in which his supporters picked him up and physically carried him over the border, defying border police.
Last year, following his condemnation of Poroshenko, Saakashvili founded a new political party “citing past praise by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for his reforms.”
“Our goal is to change the current so-called political elite,” he said at the time. “The main goal is to bring in people who are ready to work for the country, not for their clan, pocket or oligarchic group.”