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Belarus Grants Refugee Status to Ex-Ukraine Official Sought by Kyiv

FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, shakes hands with Ukrainian Defense Minister Mykhailo Yezhel at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 10, 2010. Belarus has granted Yezhel, who is accused of embezzlement, refugee status.

Belarus has granted refugee status to the former defense minister of Ukraine accused of embezzling $2 million of state funds.

Mykhailo Yezhel told journalists in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday that he and his family are living in Minsk.

Yezhel served as defense minister from 2010-2012 under pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. He was appointed ambassador to Belarus in 2013.

After Yanukovych was ousted from office by a popular uprising in 2014, Ukrainian officials charged Yezhel with misuse of state funds.

Among the specific allegations is that Yezhel stole money meant for army rations and tried to sell Russia two strategic bombers.

Ukrainian prosecutors are seeking to try Yezhel in absentia. If convicted, he could face up to six years in prison.

Ukraine and Russia have been in conflict since Yanukovych fled to Moscow and Russia subsequently annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine.