[lg policy] Ukraine ’s Timoshenko, once a Russian speaker from the east, is now a champion of Ukrainian
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Sat Feb 6 16:27:16 UTC 2010
Ukraine’s Premier Stumps for Her Turn at the Top
Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times
Published: February 5, 2010
SHE took the stage at a theater for one of her last speeches before
Sunday’s presidential election, and the setting seemed apt: here was a
politician as riveting and ambitious and unpredictable as any heroine
in an epic play. Just her name — Yulia! — has become shorthand for her
stardom. But Ukraine may no longer be as eager to embrace Prime
Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko as it was during the 2004 Orange
Revolution, when she led a pro-Western, anti-Kremlin movement. (And
along the way, hit upon using a blond peasant braid as a nationalist
statement.) No matter that Ms. Tymoshenko once represented the hope
that the countries of the former Soviet Union could build a stable,
democratic future. She is trailing in the polls and trying to rouse
supporters who are dispirited by a limp economy and Ukraine’s
Even in this western region, an Orange heartland that is not far from
the gates of the European Union, her aura appears to have faded
somewhat. And so it was that Ms. Tymoshenko arrived in Ivano-Frankivsk
on Tuesday and implored a gathering of several hundred people not to
turn their backs on her. She spoke of creating a Ukraine that looks
toward Europe, of her plans for jobs, of her battles with many rivals
over the years. It was her standard stump speech, but she delivered it
with passion, speaking for nearly an hour, without notes. She pounded
the lectern. She clenched her fist. And she touched her chest for
emphasis and sighed. “My goal in politics from the very beginning has
been, and will be, the goal of giving Ukraine a chance to finally
secure a firm footing in the world as a competitive, independent and
real European state,” she said.
“I ask you in these final days to help Ukraine — and me — to help
everyone who today has stood up to defend Ukraine,” she said. “I ask
you, people who care about the soul of Ukraine, those who want to
preserve the heart, the spirit and the faith of our country for future
generations, to please defend it.” MS. TYMOSHENKO, 49, may be the
underdog, but her emphatic delivery underscores that she is by no
means on the ropes. On Thursday, she threatened protests if the
campaign of her opponent, Viktor F. Yanukovich, committed fraud, in
what would be a repeat of the Orange Revolution. She charged that Mr.
Yanukovich pushed through a last-minute amendment to the election law
this week so that his campaign would have an advantage in the ballot
counting. President Viktor A. Yushchenko, a former Orange ally of Ms.
Tymoshenko who lost his bid for another term last month, sided with
Mr. Yanukovich and approved the law.
Each side has accused the other of planning to steal the election, but
given how disenchanted many people are, major demonstrations seem
unlikely. Ms. Tymoshenko has long had a reputation as an intense
competitor, shifting her stances, alliances and images as she has
risen through the ranks. Ukraine is split by a linguistic and
geographic divide, and when Ms. Tymoshenko got her start in politics,
she was a Russian speaker from the east with long dark hair. Now, she
is a champion of the Ukrainian language, with its base in the western
half of the country.
More recently, she has changed her tone toward neighboring Russia.
Once a staunch critic of the Kremlin, she is promising to patch things
up and has even praised Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin. Her
detractors contend that Ms. Tymoshenko is a secret admirer of Mr.
Putin and would govern as he has, with the same strong-arm tactics.
They also say that her tendency to engage in political brawls
undercuts her ability to govern.
“I do not believe that she is a democrat,” said Yosyp Vinsky, who was
Ms. Tymoshenko’s transportation minister before resigning last year
and accusing her of poor management and unethical behavior. (Her aides
said he himself had ethics issues.)
“She is more of a P.R. expert than a real leader,” said Mr. Vinsky,
who said he was not backing Mr. Yanukovich, either.
“And she is absolutely an autocrat who is willing to spit on the law
and stamp on the Constitution.”
For now, Ms. Tymoshenko is struggling to close the gap with Mr.
Yanukovich, a former prime minister who won the fraudulent election
that set off the Orange Revolution and then lost the rematch. Once
dismissed as a boorish Kremlin crony, he has undergone an image
makeover of his own, positioning himself as more polished and
independent of the Kremlin.
In the first round of the election last month, Mr. Yanukovich won by
10 percentage points. But no candidate received a majority,
necessitating a runoff.
Mr. Yanukovich has focused on Ms. Tymoshenko’s role in the government,
treating her as if she were the incumbent and asserting that voters
should hold her responsible for Ukraine’s economic and political
Ms. Tymoshenko has ridiculed Mr. Yanukovich as a dimwitted pawn of
Ukraine’s oligarchs. On Monday, he refused to take part in a debate
against her. She appeared alone, calling him a coward. He later
responded that she was a habitual liar.
In Ivano-Frankivsk on Tuesday, she mocked him for a verbal gaffe. He
had told a crowd, “Gathered here is the best genocide in the country,”
when he meant “gene pool.”
If Mr. Yanukovich were president, Ms. Tymoshenko said, he would be
such an embarrassment that “who will agree to come to Ukraine to make
investments, who will offer their hand to us?”
STILL, her visit here suggested the scope of her challenge. People at
the theater, many of whom were educators, did not respond with notable
enthusiasm, as if they had heard it all before. There were not many
rounds of applause, and when someone tried to get the audience to
chant her name, it petered out.
This in a region that is extremely unlikely to support Mr. Yanukovich,
who is from eastern Ukraine.
Ms. Tymoshenko’s problem is that disaffected people here may not vote.
To make matters worse, President Yushchenko, her former ally, is so
angry with her that he is urging the public to cast ballots “against
all” — a legal option.
In her speech, Ms. Tymoshenko assailed that advice. “Each of those
votes is a vote for Yanukovich,” she said.
In the audience, a preschool teacher named Yelena Frezyuk, 30,
listened intently but did not appear moved. She said she would vote
for Ms. Tymoshenko very reluctantly because she was deeply
disappointed in the Orange Revolution.
“There were a lot of promises, and very few carried out,” Ms. Frezyuk said.
But others said they adored Ms. Tymoshenko. Anna Yakimiv, 58, a
university administrator, said, “We have hope only in her.”
But Ms. Yakimiv said she was nervous. “There is a great danger that
Yulia will not make it,” she said.
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