By Madalena Araujo, CNN
A key minister under Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Thursday that “Donbass has always been and is part of Ukraine.”
The now self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region have been the worst hit areas by the conflict in the country, which started after Russia annexed Crimea in March.
“I think the Eastern Donbass should decide for themselves where they should belong. What is important is to hear Donbas today, its decision, its voice should be important,” Oleksandr Klymenko, Former Ukrainian Minister of Revenues and Duties, told Amanpour.
“But it's important to note that Donbas is not against Ukraine. But Donbass is not happy with the government in the last 23 years. The government has been - is the key perpetrator of everything that's happened. This is what they should be held responsible for.”
Klymenko made his hasty escape from Ukraine in February amid mass anti-government protests that would ultimately lead to President Yanukovych’s ouster.
The former head of taxation policy denies accusations concerning his personally supervision of a massive tax avoidance scheme as well as of a colossal network of phantom firms used for corrupt activities.
Amanpour asked the former minister if he acknowledges any shortfalls and shortcomings in his administration.
“Of course, we did have shortcomings. We failed completely [in] many things, which includes taxation of individuals, the simplification of the tax payment seizure.”
“But then there are things for which I'm personal proud of. Firstly, we invited PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the best auditors, to help us carry out reform in our ministry with permission an anticorruption strategy for our ministry.”
The Ukrainian economy is on its knees after losing billions of dollars Yanukovych and in light of the ongoing separatist conflict. The country will need billions more in bailout money according to the IMF.
Klymenko lamented “what happened in February,” but he’s afraid it “supports my statement about a political purge against me just because I was labeled as somebody involved with the Yanukovych regime.”
“Nobody wants to know that I was a technocrat minister. There was no justice then. This was about revolutionary expediency and political purges.”
Will Klymenko, who is currently living in self-imposed exile in Moscow, go back to Ukraine at some point then?
“I hope I will go back to Ukraine in the immediate future. My concerns for my country and my people all are with me, and I'm prepared to face the Ukrainian people and look at them with my own eyes. And I'm extending my helping hand to my people without stopping for a moment.”
“Of course I want to go back to my country and my people. I'm sure that a lot needs to be done to unite Ukraine instead of disuniting it and - the way it's being done now because they're deleting the people of Donbas out of the Ukrainian people.”
“I can't look at this without a pain in my heart. And I want to be helpful to Ukraine.”
The fighting in Ukraine has killed at least 4,707 people, according to the latest U.N. figures.