KIEV — To protesters, the presidential residence — with its lavish wooden exterior, artificial lakes and new golf course — were a symbol of everything wrong in Ukraine, and the palace's takeover Saturday, they say, signals a change in direction for the country and its future.
As Ukraine moves to restore stability and sets a new course, the opposition is pushing to punish those they hold responsible for the violence and corruption— including President Viktor Yanukovych — while also moving toward a more peaceful, prosperous future.
But that won't be easy, some say.
"We will need at least a year to deal with the mess that Yanukovych and his people left us," said protester Marina Kalashnikova, 30, in Kiev. "It is not time to relax yet, and many people among the protesters understand this."
''The events of the last week changed the Ukrainian people," she added.
Around Kiev and western parts of the country, "wanted" posters were on display of men believed to be snipers who killed dozens of protesters earlier this week in the capital. Lawmakers talked of the trial and imprisonment of officials deemed responsible for the killing of civilians — including Yanukovych, who was removed from office Saturday even as he vowed "not to resign."
"We must not let criminals escape the country," said Yuri Mehalchshyn, a lawmaker with the ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party. "We need to make sure no one escapes from justice."
Lawmakers also called for a trial for the president Saturday.
That fury echoed on the lawns of the presidential residence called Mezhyhyria, with some proposing it should be transformed into a "Museum of Corruption" as a lesson for future leaders.
The president's 370-acre luxury residence on the outskirts of the capital was taken over Saturday by protesters, furious over a deal signed Friday to avoid further bloodshed. While the accord granted key opposition demands, it stopped short of calling for the president's resignation. On Saturday, the residence became a symbol of justice, as guards with bats made sure there was no looting and allowed for limited tours to the thousands who gathered there.
Protesters said the mansion is something that has long been seethed about in opposition circles.
"In many countries presidents live in an official residence which is built and maintained at taxpayers' expense," wrote Sergey Leshenko, in Ukrainian news outlet Pravda. "Usually the right to enjoy that luxury is limited by the limits of the presidential term in office. On the face of it, similar rule exists also in Ukraine … but in a twist of that old Soviet rule, presidents of independent Ukraine received a right to keep occupying their dachas even after their term has expired … which provides a loophole to de-facto privatization of the state property on the cheap."
"All three previous presidents of Ukraine have to various degrees made use (or perhaps more appropriately, abuse) of those rules," he added. "But President Victor Yanukovych, seems to have taken this abuse to a whole new dimension."
At issue is how the ownership of the residence was transferred from the state to foreign shell companies with clear links to Yanukovych as well as the "frantic construction activity" financed from non-transparent sources at the residence since the president came to power in 2010.
That is why "Mezhyhyria became a byword for high-level corruption in Ukraine," he added.
Along with justice for high-ranking members of the president's party, opposition leaders celebrated the righting of another "wrong": The release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who is expected to run for president in elections now scheduled in May.
"Our whole motherland will be able to see the sun starting from today because the best sons of our country stood up and went toward the bullets," she said from the prison in Kharkiv, just after her release. "And our main task now is to do our best to make sure not a single drop of their blood was spilled in vain — not a single drop of their blood must be forgotten."
While the country must now struggle with an economy facing default, repairing the battered capital, a fractious opposition that could be split apart even more with Tymoshenko on the scene, and the divisions between east and west including calls for a split, many residents say first things first — justice for dozens that died at the hands of the government.
At a checkpoint in Dubno, in western Ukraine, set up three days ago to prevent government forces from taking over, locals who just returned from Kiev recounted the atrocities they had seen just days before.
"I saw a 19-year-old's coffin and his father was there crying, saying he wished he could have stood in front of him so he'd be alive today," said Taras Pagubin, a member of the opposition "militia" guarding checkpoints near Dubno. "Every 15 minutes, there was a new body on the square."
Contributing: Charles McPhedran from Dubno in western Ukraine.