February 23, 1954 • Khoruzhivka, Sumy Oblast, Ukraine
President of Ukraine
Viktor Yushchenko was Prime Minister of Ukraine from December 1999 to April 2001. After being voted out of office 263 votes to 69 votes, Yushchenko became leader of Our Ukraine, a political coalition (a combination of people working for the same cause). Members of Our Ukraine won 101 seats in the 450-seat legislature in 2002, making Our Ukraine the most powerful party in Parliament (Ukraine's governing body). In 2004 Yushchenko was elected the president of Ukraine in the country's first free election. During his campaign, he was poisoned with a near-fatal dose of the toxin dioxin. The poisoning has left him with permanent scars on his face. This personal attack left Yushchenko even more determined to lead his country out of the state of government and police corruption it has been living in for decades.
Helps establish Europe's newest bank
Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko was born to a teacher's family on February 23, 1954, in the village of Khoruzhivka in Sumy Oblast, Ukraine. (Ukraine is in eastern Europe and borders the Black Sea.)
Yushchenko graduated college in 1975 from the Ternopil Finance andEconomics Institute. His first job was with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) State Bank, where he was an economist and department chief. After earning his graduate degree in finance and credit from the Ukrainian Institute of Economics and Agricultural Management in 1984, Yushchenko was appointed Deputy Director for Agricultural Crediting for the Ukraine branch of the USSR State Bank. He held this position until 1987, when he left for another banking position elsewhere.
The National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) hired Yushchenko to be its governor (president) in 1993. NBU was Europe's newest central bank at the time, and Yushchenko played an important role in developing its policies and procedures. He stayed with NBU for six years.
Earns international reputation as Prime Minister
In December 1999 Ukraine's president, Leonid Kuchma, nominated Yushchenko as prime minister. In this case, a prime minister is the person responsible for carrying out the president's orders and directives. It is an important job. Parliament approved Yushchenko's nomination 296 to 12.
"I am not afraid of anything or anybody."
Yushchenko brought to life a number of reforms that helped turn around Ukraine's struggling economy. He is credited with paying off millions of dollars of Ukrainian debt through cuts in federal spending and by improving investment conditions in the country and overseas. Because of his success, Yushchenko was able to restore public trust in government, something that was destroyed through years of political corruption. One of the more challenging aspects of Yushchenko's job was to increase the level of honesty and open communication between the government and the public. Prior to his election, Ukraine lived in fear of its government leaders, who were infamous for their willingness to stop at nothing to get what they wanted.
In 2001, Yushchenko's deputy prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (1960–), got into a heated argument with leaders of the coal-mining andnatural gas industries. These leaders were powerful and had great influence on an already-corrupt government. As a result, parliament voted to remove Yushchenko from office, 263 to 69. Though a harsh response, this move did not come as a great surprise to anyone. The government in Ukraine was mainly Communist; it believed in a powerful governing body that gave citizens few choices in anything ranging from food to healthcare. This is called a centralized government. Yushchenko believed in democracy and capitalism: He wanted people to be able to own businesses and enjoy the freedoms that America is known for. His beliefs threatened those few powerful men in Ukraine's government.
Four million votes were gathered in support of a petition to get Yushchenko back in office. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians protested his dismissal. Their efforts were of no use; Yushchenko was out of office. But he was not out of power.
Early in 2002 Viktor Yushchenko became the leader of Our Ukraine, a political coalition. Our Ukraine united various democratic parties and groups from across the nation in hopes of bringing democracy to the Ukraine. Our Ukraine formed the largest parliamentary faction of 2002, claiming 101 seats of the 450-seat legislature. It seemed the corrupt government of Ukraine was in danger of being overthrown.
Although Ukraine's presidents were determined by election, it was no secret that fraud was widespread in elections. Everyone knew it, and no one felt able to fight it with even a remote hope of winning. Yushchenko changed that. When he announced he would run for the office of president in the 2004 election, Yushchenko brought hope to hundreds of thousands of citizens who were weary of living under a dictatorship disguised as a presidency. They were ready for a change.
Becomes victim of a murder plot
Yushchenko was running against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was a political ally of outgoing president Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma's administration depended upon corruption and dishonesty for its power. Government officials ruled with a sense of terror rather than justice. For the powerful and wealthy few, having Yanukovych elected president was important. Should Yushchenko win, Ukraine's government was sure to topple. Yushchenko's campaign promises included a better quality of life for Ukrainians through democracy. His wife, Katherine, told CBS in a 2005 interview, "He was a great threat to the old system, where there was a great deal of corruption, where people were making millions, if not billions."
On September 6, 2004, Yushchenko became ill after dining with leaders of the Ukrainian secret police. Unlike other social or political engagements, this dinner did not include anyone else on Yushchenko's team. No precautions were taken regarding the food. Within hours after the dinner, Yushchenko began vomiting violently. His face became paralyzed; he could not speak or read. He developed a severe stomachache and backache as well as gastrointestinal pain. Outwardly, Yushchenko developed what is known as chloracne, a serious skin condition that leaves the face scarred and disfigured.
By December 2004, doctors had determined that Yushchenko had been the victim of dioxin poisoning. Dioxin is a name given to a group of related toxins that can cause cancer and even death. Dioxin was used in the biochemical weapon called Agent Orange during the Vietnam War (1954–75; a controversial war in which the United States aidedSouth Vietnam in its fight against a takeover by Communist North Vietnam). Yushchenko had a dioxin level six thousand times greater than that normally found in the bloodstream. His is the second-highest level ever recorded.
Yushchenko immediately suspected he had been poisoned, though Kuchma's camp passionately denied such allegations. Instead, when Yushchenko showed up at a parliamentary meeting shortly after the poisoning incident, Kuchma's men teased him, saying he must have had too much to drink or was out too late the night before.
Dioxin can stay in the body for up to thirty-five years. Experts predict that his swelling and scars will fade but never completely disappear. John Henry, a toxicologist at London's Imperial Hospital, told RedNova.com, "It'll be a couple of years, and he will always be a bit pockmarked. After damage as heavy as that, I think he will not return to his film star looks." And Yushchenko will live with the constant threat of cancer.
At first it was believed the poison must have come from a Russian laboratory. Russia was a strong supporter of Kuchma and lobbied against Yushchenko in the 2004 election. But by July 2005, Yushchenko's security forces were able to trace the poison to a lab in Ukraine. Though not entirely ruling out Russia's involvement, Yushchenko is quoted on his Web site as saying "I'm sure that even though some people are running from the investigation, we will get them. I am not afraid of anything or anybody."
Birth of a revolution
Even an attempt on his life didn't stop Yushchenko from finishing his presidential campaign. On October 31, 2004, neither Yushchenko nor Yanukovych won the absolute majority of votes (meaning no candidate received more than 50 percent of the votes). Ukrainian law mandates that in such an event, the two candidates with the highest number of votes must compete in a run-off election. The winner of that election would officially become president. That election took place on November 21, 2004, in Kiev, the Ukraine capital.
Exit polls (the unofficial tally of votes at the end of an election) on November 21 showed that Yushchenko had an 11 percent lead over Yanukovych. Official results gave the election to Yanukovych by a mere 3 percent. Official votes were counted by officials under the authority of Yanukovych. The incumbent laid the blame for the difference on the media's shoulders. But Yushchenko's team countered by publicizing obvious evidence of electoral fraud on the part of the government, which backed Yanukovych. Signs of similar fraud were apparent in the original election held in October, too, but to a much lesser—and more difficult to prove—extent.
The Ukrainian people had had enough. Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Kiev and other cities across Ukraine. Yushchenko supporters planned strikes and sit-ins to protest the obvious rigging of the run-off election. They wore orange ribbons, carried orange banners, and wore orange clothing. Orange had been the official color of Yushchenko's campaign. Thus, the Orange Revolution was born.
The Orange Revolution brought Ukraine's political crisis to the attention of the entire world. Ukraine's Supreme Court demanded another run-off election be held. Voters gathered together once again, andthis time, the results were clear. Viktor Yushchenko was declared the official winner and was sworn into office on January 23, 2005, in Kiev. He became the country's first freely elected president.
After the final election, the New York Times reported that Ukrainian security agencies helped the Orange Revolution succeed. Remember, these agencies were under the authority of the corrupt president and his favored candidate, Yanukovych. The paper reported that on November 28, more than ten thousand troops were ordered to put down the Orange Revolution protests in Kiev. The commander of the military unit warned Yushchenko's team of the crackdown, thereby giving them time to alert the protesters and avoid bloodshed. Further revelations show that many intelligence officers supported Yushchenko's ideas of democracy andgatheredproof of voting fraud and incriminating conversations held between leaders of Yanukovych's team. It is believed that this evidence was recorded and provided to Yushchenko by Ukrainian Security Services.
After his official election with a 51.99 percent of the vote, Yushchenko addressed the crowd: "This is a victory of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian nation.... This is what dozens of millions of Ukrainians dreamt about. Today it is fashionable, stylish and beautiful to be a citizen of Ukraine." And at 3:00 AM on December 27, he addressed his supporters with "during 14 years we were independent, but we were not free," as reported in the Ukrainian Weekly.
Pledges membership of Ukraine to European Union
The European Union (EU) is a network for economic and political cooperation between twenty-five countries. These European states joined together in an effort to establish rules and regulations of trade, labor, and business that would make for a more stable economy. In the past, Ukraine was indifferent to the EU; it wanted no part in the framework. Instead, president Kuchma favored privatization of the Ukrainian economy, which meant giving all the power to a handful of people who had pledged their support to Kuchma. Yushchenko recognized the benefits that belonging to the EU would provide his country. In an article on his official Web site, Yushchenko said, "The citizens of no European country object to Ukraine joining the EU. We consider that Ukraine is an inseparable part of Europe."
Although Russian president Vladimir Putin (1952–) gave his support to the opposition, Yushchenko held a series of high-profile meetings with the leader in 2005. Political experts expected progress in all areas that once were deadlocked under the old leadership. Already by July 2005, Russia was exporting more goods to Ukraine than ever before. The key to improving relations with Europe and joining with full membership in the EU is Ukraine's relationship with Russia. Russia is a political and economic powerhouse, and Yushchenko was not the president Putin was hoping to deal with.
Six months later
Six months after Yushchenko's victory, supporters of Yanukovych lined the streets in protest. Some were so angry that they quit their jobs and lived on the streets full time. These protesters claimed that anyone who supported the opposition was being persecuted. Yanukovych has been questioned by the police many times, and the Ukrainian Ombudsman (person who works with people who have a complaint) said it was investigating the cases of twelve thousand workers who said they were fired because they did not support Yushchenko in the election.
The Minister of Justice denied that anyone was being politically persecuted. He told BBC News that authorities were investigating allegations of corruption because to do otherwise would be a violation of the spirit of the Orange Revolution. "People were demanding justice."
There is no doubt Yushchenko was making drastic and sweeping changes. July 18, 2005, was a particularly busy day for the president. He dismissed the leaders of all regional interior departments. The president told leaders at a meeting of Interior Ministry officials, "Trust in police must be restored. This is our common work, which must begin from replacing the local police heads."
That same day, Yushchenko ordered a decree to be drawn up that would disband Ukraine's traffic police department. After deciding it was impossible to rid the department of deep-seated corruption, the president announced he would abolish the department altogether, leaving twenty-three thousand employees out of work. Traffic police in Ukraine are known for their habit of stopping motorists and fining them on the spot for imaginary offenses. They are infamous for demanding bribe money.
Yushchenko claimed that he warned senior officials three times that if the department did not clean itself up, he would get rid of it. The new patrol service would be closely monitored for bribe-taking and swearing. Yushchenko told law enforcement officials, "You are servants of the state. Try to talk without swearing. If anyone can't learn to do this, then write a letter of resignation."
Scandal at the top
In July 2005, Yushchenko's nineteen-year-old son, Andriy, became embroiled in a scandal that infuriated Ukrainians, regardless of their political convictions. Journalists brought to light Andriy's lavish lifestyle and questioned the morality of such a lifestyle in a country that is still struggling to find its way. According to Mosnews.com, the young Yushchenko drives a brand new BMW 16 (valuedat $120,000), uses a platinum body Vertu mobile phone (priced at $30,000), and bribes restaurants with wads of cash to give him the best tables. These facts alone are not unusual when talking about the children of political leaders; many children of leaders worldwide live lives of luxury. But in this case, the problem stems from where the money comes. Nikolai Katerinchuk, Ukraine's deputy head of the country's tax inspectorate, claims Andriy's annual income amounts to $100 million. And that money comes from the sale of Orange Revolution memorabilia.
After Yushchenko's election victory, the president gave his son all property rights for Orange Revolution memorabilia. The items are still popular and enjoy steady sales in the region of Kiev. A flag sells for $1-$5; a T-shirt costs $20. According to a 2005 Russian News and Information Agency article written by political commentator Peter Lavelle, when asked about his son's spending habits, the president replied, "Let me tell you, friends, such ... [questions] should be humiliating for an honest journalist." Yushchenko has been highly criticized for his emotional response to his son's predicament. Many citizens see his reaction as symbolic of all that is wrong since the Orange Revolution.
Lavelle considered Yushchenko's comments to be the same as an admission of how little has been done to deal with corrupt government officials since Yushchenko took office. Ukrainian citizens are very aware that some state officials continue to live well at the expense of every one else. This is seen as a breach of just one of the promises made by the Orange Revolution.
Murder and mayhem
To make matters worse for Yushchenko, frustration levels of the public were already high due to the lack of justice for murdered journalist Georgy Gongadze. Thirty-one-year-old Gongadze was the respected publisher of the online journal Ukrainska Pravda, a publication known for its willingness to print the truth even if it angered people in powerful positions. He was considered a hero for the underdog, a champion of justice in the midst of evil. The journalist went missing on November 13, 2000. He was found beheaded in a ditch some time later in a suburb of Kiev. At the time of his death, Gongadze had been investigating government corruption in Ukraine. Since Gongadze's murder, two more journalists have been killed.
Although an investigation got underway, no satisfactory results have been publicized. Yushchenko had promised citizens that the case would reach the courts by May 2005. As of August that year, his pledge went unfulfilled. Yushchenko has been criticized for hiring incompetent lawyers, and it is considered fact that Kuchma had been buying off people in the case whose knowledge might help solve the crime. It is widely suspected that Kuchma ordered the journalist's kidnapping and murder, but no progress seemed to have been made in proving that allegation. Yushchenko was being held accountable for that lack of progress and justice in the Gongadze murder. Failure to close the case was damaging the president's legitimacy, as well as those who serve under him. The hopes that fueled the Orange Revolution have been seriously dimmed.
For More Information
Fawkes, Helen. "Protest camps badger Yushchenko." BBC News (July 18, 2005). http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/4693419.stm (accessedon August 9, 2005).
Lavelle, Peter. "Yushchenko loses his Orange Revolution cool." Russian News and Information Agency Novosti (July 27, 2005). http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20050727/40985857.html (accessed on August 9, 2005).
Mite, Valentinas. "Ukraine: Has Yushchenko's Political Honeymoon Come to an End?" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (July 27, 2005). http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/07/6ed958c8-e9ab-4781-9aeb-3664aea0b123.html (accessedon August 9, 2005).
Nynka, Andrew. "Yushchenko elected president of Ukraine." Ukrainian Weekly (January 2, 2005). http://www.ukrweekly.com/Archive/2005/010501.shtml (accessedon August 9, 2005).
Presidentof Ukraine: Official Web Site.http://www.president.gov.ua/en/ (accessedon August 9, 2005).
"Profile: Viktor Yushchenko." BBC News (January 1, 2005). http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/4035789.stm (accessed on August 9, 2005).
"Ukraine disappoints the West." Pravda.ru (July 28, 2005). http://english.pravda.ru/world/20/92/370/15875_Ukraine.html (accessed on August 9, 2005).
"Ukraine traffic police abolished." BBC News (July 18, 2005). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4694199.stm (accessed on August 9, 2005).
"Viktor Yushchenko." Biography.ms.http://victor-yushchenko.biography.ms/ (accessedon August 9, 2005).
"Yushchenko: 'Live and Carry On'." CBSNews.com (January 30, 2005). http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/01/28/60minutes/main670103.shtml (accessedon August 9, 2005).
"Yushchenko Poisoned, Doctors Say." DW-World.DE Deutsche welle (December 11, 2004). http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1425561,00.html (accessedon August 9, 2005).
Yushchenko, Viktor. "Our Ukraine." Opinion Journal (December 3, 2004). http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id =110005974 (accessedAugust 9, 2005).
President of Ukraine
Born Viktor Andriyovich Yushchenko, February 23, 1954, in Khoruzhivka, Sums'ka Oblast, Ukraine; son of Andriy Andriyovych (a teacher) and Varvara Tymofiyovna (a teacher) Yushchenko; married and divorced first wife; married Kateryna Chumachenko (a former U.S. State Department official), 1998; children: a son and a daughter (from first marriage), a son and two daughters (from second marriage). Education: Earned degree in economics from Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute, 1975.
Addresses: Office—Ukrainian President's Public Reception Office, 12 Shovkovychna St., Kiev, Ukraine.
Chief accountant assistant on a collective farm, 1975; served in Soviet Army frontier troops stationed on Turkish border, 1975-76; began at State Bank of the Soviet Union, 1976, as acting economist, became chief of the Ulyanovsk department; deputy director of administration, USSR State Bank, Ukrainian Republican Office, 1985-87; department head, deputy chairman of the Board of Directors, Ukrainian Agro-Industrial Bank, 1988-90; deputy, first deputy chairman of the board, Republican Bank "Ukraina," 1990-93; chair and governor, National Bank of Ukraine, 1993-99; appointed prime minister of Ukraine, 1999, resigned after a vote of noconfidence in February, 2001; director, Borys Yeltsin Ukrainian-Russian Institute of Management and Business, 2001-02; elected to Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine national assembly), March, 2002; became leader of the "Our Ukraine" parliamentary faction, 2002, and chair of the All-Ukrainian "Our Ukraine" civil organization after 2003; elected president of Ukraine, December, 2004.
Viktor Yushchenko triumphed in a brutal political battle for the presidency of Ukraine in late 2004. He led a political coalition called Nasha Ukrayina ("Our Ukraine"), but lost a run-off election widely believed to have been rigged in favor of a candidate who had the support of Vladimir Putin, the president of Ukraine's powerful neighbor and former master, Russia. Yushchenko, by contrast, was a pro-West economist who enjoyed broad popular as well as international support, and when the runoff election results were announced in the other candidate's favor, protesters began to gather at the main square in Kiev, the Ukraine capital.
Despite the customary Ukraine subzero late autumn temperatures, Yushchenko's supporters stood firm until a second run-off election was held, after which he was declared the legitimate winner of the presidency of Ukraine, a nation of 47 million squeezed into a landmass roughly the size of Texas. Heavily industrialized and rich in natural resources, Ukraine is also caught at a unique crossroads thanks to its geographic position between Eastern Europe and Russia. Ukrainians, traditionally suspicious of their Russian neighbors after a long and bloody history between the two powers, had struggled to create a new, democratic post-Soviet government. Thus Yushchenko's victory had great significance for pro-European Ukrainians, but it also had wider implications for the political landscape of Europe. "It showed," wrote Jason Bush and Roman Olearchyk in BusinessWeek, "that a decade and a half after the end of the cold war, Europe is not doomed to a new continental divide that would abandon Ukraine and the other states of the old Soviet Union to authoritarian systems characterized by rigged elections and political intimidation."
Yushchenko was born in 1954 in Khoruzhivka, a town in the oblast, or province, of Sums'ka in Ukraine's north. At the time of his birth, the country was attached to the Soviet Union as one of its constituent republics. Both of his parents were teachers, and his father was a World War II veteran who had been captured and taken prisoner by Nazi German forces, and incarcerated in Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp where Jews were exterminated as part of Nazi Germany's "Final Solution" to eradicate the Jews of Europe.
As a young man, Yushchenko studied economics at a college in Ternopil in Ukraine's eastern region, and after earning his degree in 1975 took a job as an agricultural accountant on one of the large collective farms of the Soviet era, when private property or free enterprise were virtually nonexistent. He served a year in the Soviet Army, and in 1976 joined the State Bank in Ulyanovsk, a city in Russia, as an economist. He eventually rose to chief of the Ulyanovsk branch, and in 1985 was appointed to a deputy director's post at the State Bank's Ukrainian headquarters. He moved in 1988 to Kiev's Agro-Industrial Bank as a manager, and when that bank was reorganized in 1990 and its name changed to "Ukrayina," he served as the deputy chairman of its supervisory board.
Much changed in Ukraine since Yushchenko had started his career back in the mid-1970s. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who took office in 1985, ushered in a series of reforms that eventually led to a swift and relatively bloodless end of communism in the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin came to power in 1991, and continued the reforms already underway that were taking the Soviet Union from a state-planned socialist economy to a free-market one. Ukraine declared its independence that same year, and followed a similar economic reform program. Despite his training as a Soviet-regime banker, Yushchenko had little trouble adjusting to the new era, and even came to play a leading role in the transition. In 1993, he became head of the new National Bank of Ukraine.
Yushchenko was a key figure in Ukraine's successful adoption of the hryvnia in 1996, which replaced the Soviet ruble. He also played a part in the creation of a new regulatory system for commercial banking in the post-Soviet era. But the Ukrainian economy was still tangled with that of Russia, and when the ruble decreased in value and Russia plunged into economic turmoil in 1998, Yushchenko managed to keep the value of the hryvnia stable despite the hyperinflation and recession that resulted. Thanks to his leadership role and growing popularity, in late 1999 Yushchenko was made the country's prime minister in a surprise move by Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma in the midst of Kuchma's own governance crisis.
Yushchenko held the office for less than two years, and was ousted in a 2001 battle between the Ukrainian government and its coal-mining and natural gas industries. Kuchma had strong alliances with the new Ukrainian oligarchs, the business moguls who bought up large stakes in the formerly state-owned industries in the 1990s, and quickly amassed immense fortunes thanks to their government deals. Yushchenko's prudent economic policies were often opposed by the oligarchs, and some of the members of the Verkhovna Rada, or Ukrainian parliament, who were beholden to the oligarchs for their own political success, conspired with the more leftist-leaning Rada members to oust Yushchenko with a no-confidence vote. His ouster prompted a massive demonstration in Kiev, and he promised his supporters that he would return to political office soon.
In 2002 Yushchenko emerged as head of a new political coalition, Nasha Ukrayina (Our Ukraine), that won 26 percent of the Rada seats in March legislative elections that year. Our Ukraine was created when several parties united in opposition to Kuchma's autocratic rule to challenge him. Despite winning 112 out of the 450 seats in the Rada, the coalition was essentially powerless, however, and unable to form a coalition with other opposition parties in the Rada. Meanwhile, Kuchma's government was mired in several notorious corruption scandals, and even linked to the murder of an investigative journalist who had written unfavorably about Kuchma and his cronies.
Kuchma's two-term limit as president was set to expire in 2004. His prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, became his handpicked party successor, and Yushchenko declared himself an independent candidate for the presidency. He ran with Yuliya Tymoshenko, a successful businesswoman-turned-Rada member whom he had named to his cabinet during his 1999-2001 stint as prime minister. Tymoshenko, who founded a successful video rental chain in 1989 and then went on to run several influential oil and natural-gas concerns in Ukraine, was set to become the first female prime minister if Yushchenko's ticket won the October 31, 2004, balloting.
The run-up to the campaign was a heated one. Yushchenko campaigned on a platform that advocated more ties to Europe and the West, greater openness in governmental affairs, and a re-examination of some of the business deals that the Kuchma government had entered into that gave away the formerly state-run enterprises to the powerful Ukraine or Russian oligarchs. Yushchenko supported the idea of allowing foreign investment instead. This prompted his political opponents to denounce Yushchenko as a puppet of foreign governments, and even claim that his wife, Kateryna, was a spy. This accusation was linked to the fact that she was a Ukrainian-American from Chicago, and had once worked at the U.S. State Department before she wed Yushchenko. But the most shocking event of the 2004 election came on September 21, when Yushchenko—known for his movie-star looks—appeared before the Rada with his face covered with terrible cysts. He told his shocked audience that he had been poisoned by his political enemies.
Yushchenko had fallen ill in the first week of September, and traveled to an Austrian clinic for treatment. Doctors initially suspected some sort of trouble with his pancreas, possibly the result of a viral infection that was linked to unknown chemical substances. His face had changed almost overnight, becoming bloated and pockmarked in a condition known as chloracne. A prominent Dutch toxicolo-gist saw news footage of Yushchenko, and asked the Austrian clinic if he could test some of Yushchenko's blood; the scientist's hunch proved correct, and it was announced that Yushchenko had been poisoned with dioxin, an extremely toxic byproduct of pesticide manufacturing and other chemical processes.
Yushchenko claimed that the poisoning had happened at a midnight dinner on September 5, when he met with senior Ukrainian officials that included the head of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), or secret police. He fell ill the next day, but medical professionals cast doubt on this dinner as the culprit for the dioxin poisoning, noting that symptoms generally take a minimum of three days to appear. There were other possible unknown suspects, including perhaps someone within Yushchenko's inner circle, or someone working for the organized crime syndicates that have grown immensely powerful in the post-Soviet era. He continued to campaign, despite crippling back pains from the dioxin levels.
On October 31, 2004, Yushchenko and his ticket won 39.87 percent of the ballots, with the Yanukovych slate taking 39.32 percent of the vote. Ukrainian election laws stipulate that the presidential winner is one with a 50 percent margin, and so a run-off vote was scheduled for November 21. On that day, there were allegations of voting fraud and election irregularities, including voter intimidation, cases of multiple voting, and votes for Yanukovych that came in after the polls closed. Exit polls of voters suggested that Yushchenko carried strong lead, but instead the final tally showed Yanukovych had won by three percent.
Ukrainians turned out in large numbers to protest the results. They camped out in Kiev's Independence Square, near the main government buildings, and in the public squares of other Ukrainian cities. Television cameras broadcast the Kiev vigil around the world, and it was soon dubbed the Orange Revolution for the ribbons that supporters of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko wore. The crisis prompted the Ukraine Supreme Court to examine the election results, and its judges overturned the Yanukovych victory and ordered another run-off to be held on December 26. In that one, widely monitored by teams of international observers and judged to have been conducted fairly, Yushchenko won by an eight-percent margin, or more than two million votes.
The loser, Yanukovych, did not resign from the government leadership immediately, as is customary in the country for an outgoing prime minister and his cabinet. There were some worries that a more dangerous stand-off was looming, for the Orange Revolution supporters were still camping out on Independence Square, but when they blockaded Yanukovych's cabinet offices at news of a scheduled meeting that last December week, Yanukovych finally resigned. On New Year's Eve, Yushchenko addressed a new crowd that had gathered in the Square for the holiday countdown and unofficial victory celebration. "We have been independent for 14 years," he told the joyous Ukrainians, according to a Time International report, "but we have not been free. Today we are independent and free."
Yushchenko was inaugurated as an independent Ukraine's third president on January 23, 2005, with Tymoshenko taking office as the country's first female prime minister. During his first months in office, he ordered a major reorganization of the corruption-riddled bureaucracy, replacing some 18,000 officials. He also moved to halt the privatization process of a few companies that had formerly been state-owned entities and then sold off to groups of private investors. In early April, he visited U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, and spoke before Congress as well. He urged the United States to lend support to Ukraine's bid to become a member of the European Union. In September of 2005, Yushchenko fired his entire government, amid political squabbling among its members. "I am setting before the new team one task—the ability to work as one," he said, according to CNN.com.
Yushchenko is the father of three daughters and two sons, two of them adult children from a first marriage that ended in divorce. He has a son and two daughters from his 1998 marriage to Kateryna Chumachenko, who became a Ukrainian citizen after her husband took office. Yushchenko's hobbies are considered typical Ukrainian ones: mountaineering and beekeeping. He made his annual climb of Hoverla, the Ukraine's highest mountain, in July of 2005 after receiving permission from his doctors, who were still monitoring his health after the dioxin poisoning. The culprits remain at large.
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