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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yushchenko Fights Forest Fire

Itar-TassYushchenko heaving sand onto the flames of a Ukrainian forest fire Tuesday.
KIEV -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko diverted his plane to join crews battling a forest fire that has been raging for three days and demanded the resignation of the emergency situations minister.

Yushchenko, gearing up for parliamentary elections next month, was shown on television picking up a shovel late Tuesday, heaving sand onto smoldering woodland and straining to help firefighters push a vehicle out of a bog.

The president, long at odds with a government led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, was returning to Kiev from southern Ukraine when he spotted a long plume of smoke. He ordered the pilot to change course and land.

A statement from the president's office said Yushchenko had "personally taken control of firefighting and rescue efforts" and accused Emergency Situations Minister Nestor Shufrych of misleading the public about efforts to bring the fire under control.

"The minister has displayed total incompetence and is completely uninformed," said presidential chief of staff Viktor Baloga. "The president demands that the prime minister review whether Shufrych should remain in his job. Incompetent and unprofessional individuals have no place in government."

More than 600 people, including residents, were still battling the blaze in the Kherson region Wednesday.