Prosecutors in Ukraine have requested $35 million in bail for former President Petro Poroshenko, who returned to the country Monday to face treason charges in a case he says is politically motivated.
Thousands of supporters cheered Poroshenko, who led Ukraine from 2014-19, after he arrived in Kyiv Monday on a flight from Warsaw.
Poroshenko told supporters at the airport that he had returned to Ukraine to help the country face the "growing threat of Russian invasion."
“We're here not to defend Poroshenko; we're here to join forces and defend Ukraine,” he said.
From the airport, he traveled to a court in central Kyiv, where prosecutors accuse him of treason for allegedly using illegal coal sales to finance Russian-backed separatists from 2014-15. If convicted, he could face 15 years in prison.
Poroshenko says the charges are politically motivated and accuses President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of using them to distract the country from his administration’s failings.
Poroshenko’s return comes as Ukraine faces a tense standoff with neighboring Russia. Tens of thousands of Russian troops have amassed near the border with Ukraine, prompting the United States to express concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be planning an invasion.
A U.S. delegation visited Kyiv on Monday to show support for Ukraine amid the standoff.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, told VOA’s Ukrainian Service, “We have Democrats and Republicans of very different political views here to say we stand with Ukraine, and if Vladimir Putin chooses to take this treacherous anti-democratic path of invading this country, there will be severe and swift sanctions.”
U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican, told VOA, “The United States won’t just sit idly by and be a bystander if something happens. What we’d like to do is prevent it from happening. We want to be a deterrent. We want to be part of the solution before fighting commences.”
During a break in Monday’s court session, Poroshenko told a crowd, "The (Ukrainian) authorities are confused, weak, and instead of fighting Putin, they are trying to fight us."
After a hearing that ran nearly 12 hours, the court deferred deciding whether to grant Poroshenko bail or order his arrest. The court proceedings are set to resume Wednesday.
Poroshenko was allowed to leave the court after Monday's hearing, drawing cheers from his supporters. He told the crowd, "Today we did not win the war, we did not win the battle, but we kept our positions, preventing them from advancing."
Poroshenko came to power in 2014 after street protests ousted then-President Viktor Yanukovych. He is credited with strengthening Ukraine’s army after Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko, however, lost elections in 2019 following a corruption scandal and charges that he had not done enough to implement political reforms.
Zelenskiy came to power promising to tackle corruption and curb the influence of oligarchs in the former Soviet republic.
Poroshenko owns a confectionery empire and is often called Ukraine's "chocolate king." Forbes magazine estimates his fortune at $1.6 billion.
Ukraine's government has frozen the former president's assets because of the treason allegations.
VOA’s Ukrainian Service contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.