Opposition leader and former prime minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko, sentenced to a seven-year jail term in 2011 for abuse of power, has been released.
Tymoshenko waved to her supporters as she was driven out of a hospital in Kharkiv where she had been placed under guard while being treated for severe back injury.
Hundreds of supporters chanted “Free Yulia” as the fierce rival to embattled President Viktor Yanukovych drove past in dramatic scenes laden with heavy political consequences for Ukraine.
Her political ally Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the Interfax news agency that Tymoshenko was heading directly to central Kiev’s Independence Square, occupied by anti-government protesters since November.
Earlier on Saturday, Ukraine’s parliament voted by an overwhelming margin to release Tymoshenko.
A motion “to immediately free Tymoshenko based on the decision of the European Court of Human Rights” was backed by 322 deputies of the 331 registered for the parliamentary session.
“The dictatorship has fallen,” Tymoshenko said in a statement released on her official website on Saturday.
“It fell thanks to those people who came out to defend themselves, their families and their country.”
Tymoshenko said she will stand for president in May, according to an Itar-Tass news agency report.
The Ukrainian parliament on Saturday set early presidential elections for May 25.
Tymoshenko received a rapturous welcome as she arrived at Independence Square, hours after being released from years of imprisonment.
Tymoshenko, who was in a wheelchair, first praised the protesters and those who were killed during last week’s unrest.
“The heroes never die” she said with a tearful voice.
“You are heroes, you are the best of Ukraine,” the former prime minister told the 50,000-strong crowd before breaking down in tears.