- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

KIEV — Six months after President Viktor Yushchenko rode to power atop a wave of international good will and approval, many Ukrainians are starting to ask whether his administration is any different than the one it replaced.

Fueling the re-evaluation is a growing media buzz about the lavish lifestyle of Mr. Yushchenko’s 19-year-old son, Andriy, who has been seen speeding around Kiev in a BMW M6 that retails for $120,000 and who reportedly received a pricey Vertu cell phone as a gift from a friend.

Asked about his son’s habits at a recent press conference, the president became upset.

“Act like a polite journalist and not a hired killer,” he said when reporter Serhei Leshchenko of Ukrainska Pravda asked how the teenage university student was earning his money.

It was just the latest in a series of tough questions from the Internet publication, which was one of the president’s biggest supporters during the Orange Revolution that ousted the long-ruling party of former president Leonid Kuchma in the winter.

Central to the campaign run by Mr. Yushchenko and his political allies was a promise to end the kind of corruption and influence-peddling that had come to be associated with the Kuchma regime.

“Yushchenko initially brought likable ideas that everyone understood — honesty and human dignity,” said Ludmila Horoshilova, one of Crimea’s leading journalists.

“But what we see now is a weakness in his team and the feeling that they are ready to make deals with people from the previous regime. If he doesn’t get rid of the contradictions, his ratings will fall. He has some time to correct that, but not much.”

Mrs. Horoshilova said that corruption has increased on the Crimean Peninsula since Mr. Yushchenko’s election.

Yaroslav Kenzor, a Yushschenko ally who has been traveling across the country, told reporters recently in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, “The question we’re asked most often is ‘Why aren’t bandits being put in prison? Why are they walking around freely?’”

During conversations in travels around Ukraine, the view was often heard that, despite their reformist leanings, most of today’s new leaders are still a product of the Soviet system. Old friendships, even with political opponents, die hard.

Serhei Kivalov, the former head of Ukraine’s central election commission, who was accused of falsifying election results that nearly cost Mr. Yushchenko the presidency, was seen not long ago chatting at a Kiev restaurant with one of Mr. Yushchenko’s closest advisers.

Mr. Kivalov told The Washington Times during a subsequent interview that he and the adviser were longtime friends. He said he only had wanted to make sure the president knew of the services available to the new government through a law academy he heads in Odessa.

“I asked for a meeting,” he said.

The increasingly skeptical news media, meanwhile, have seized upon the president’s recent press conference outburst as a reminder of the heavy-handed ways of the Kuchma regime, which remains under suspicion in the grisly 2000 slaying of journalist Georgy Gongadze.

About 465 journalists so far have signed a letter posted on the Ukrainska Pravda Web site (www.pravda.com.ua) reminding Mr. Yushchenko that he “had sworn to uphold the freedom of speech.”

“Today, you disregard freedom of the press, which includes free access to information, including that of public figures,” according to the letter, which describes the president’s vocabulary and tone as unworthy of a leader of a democratic European country.

“You have to realize that you and your family are the objects of public attention. Society has the full right to know about the revenues, spending and lifestyle of your family,” it says. “We are forced to talk about the country sliding into censorship, self-censorship and the lack of freedom of speech.”

Mr. Yushchenko responded with an open letter, saying in part: “It’s right for the president’s family to live under the press spotlight,” but that there is no reason “to deny my family the right to a personal life.”

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