KIEV, Aug. 21 – President Viktor Yushchenko on Tuesday ordered his Tu-134 plane to land in Kherson airport minutes after takeoff after seeing that a major wildfire was quickly spreading through the regional forest.
Yushchenko, who was hours earlier assured by the emergency situations minister that the fire had been extinguished, rushed to the site to supervise in person firefighting efforts.
Yushchenko asked the Defense Ministry to send forces to help tackle the fire, in addition to sending more emergency ministry personnel.
Yushchenko also send a telegram to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych urging him to dismiss Nestor Shufrych, the emergency situations minister, apparently for misleading the president in a report over the fire.
“The minister showed himself as completely incompetent and poorly informed,” Vikor Baloha, Yushchenko’s chief of staff, said. “Incompetent and unprofessional people have nothing to do in the government. Failures by such figures cost dearly to the people and to the state.”
The wildfires have been spreading in the areas near Tsiuriupinsk and Hola Prystan in the Kherson region, according to reports by local officials.
The fire had already destroyed more than 4,000 hectares of forests in the region, making it one of the biggest such fires in the region in recent memory, the reports said. Local prosecutors have been apparently investigating what exactly had caused the fires, according to the reports.
Shufrych is the second minister in the Yanukovych that comes under fire from Yushchenko over the past several weeks.
The president has earlier sought the dismissal of Transportation Minister Mykola Rudkovskiy for alleged “incompetence,” which had resulted in a number of crashes and accidents at the country’s railway.
Yanukovych refused to take any action against Rudkovskiy.
Analysts said that dismissing any minister from his government “for incompetence” would be a major blow for Yanukovych’s Regions Party ahead of the Sept. 30 snap election.
Shufrych, a member of the Social Democratic Party (United) and outspoken critic of Yushchenko’s pro-Western policy, runs for a seat in Parliament on the ticket of the Regions Party.
Shufrych has proved his personal loyalty to Yanukovych back since controversial presidential election in November 2004, which makes it even more unlikely that the minister will be fired, analysts said. (tl/ez)