- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

BUCHACH, Ukraine | Volodymyr Mushak voted for Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine’s highly contested presidential race in 2004. He is not sure he would do so again.

“I don’t see the result of his work,” said Mr. Mushak, who teaches business and economics at a local institute in this historic town in western Ukraine. “As for parliament, they made Ukraine into mud.”

Sentiments like these can be heard all over the country. Four years after the Orange Revolution propelled Mr. Yushchenko and a team of Western-oriented reformers to power, Ukraine is in a quagmire and Mr. Yushchenko - once the darling of the George W. Bush administration - has approval ratings of 3.5 percent.

Gross domestic product shriveled by 25 percent to 30 percent in the first two months of 2009, Mr. Yushchenko has acknowledged. In the industrial east, factory closings have strangled output and led to massive job cuts. In the agricultural west, anxious farmers are unsure how they can revive declining fortunes.

Numerous polls show Ukrainians increasingly distrust their leaders and are tired of the infighting that has dominated the country’s politics. Most of all, they are unhappy with their president.

“Admit your mistakes of the last 4 1/2 years,” said Viktor Yanukovych, Mr. Yushchenko’s opponent in 2004 and now leader of the opposition. “We need to tell the truth about what happened to our country, what state the country is in,” he recently told a late-night television audience.

Mr. Yushchenko’s supporters say democracy has been consolidated during his tenure.

Raisa Bohatyrova, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told editors and reporters of The Washington Times on Wednesday that Mr. Yushchenko made “enormous efforts to revive the Ukrainian identity, is a champion of free press and free speech” and had “encouraged the growth of civil society.”

Public expectations in 2004 were too high, she said, and people expected “immediate positive results. … It’s very hard and can’t take place overnight.”

She faulted a constitution that does not adequately separate powers between the president and parliament as well as global economic events beyond Ukraine’s control.

Opponents say Mr. Yushchenko has not shown strong leadership. They blame him for frequent public denunciation of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his one-time Orange Revolution ally, as the two have struggled for power.

They also say he has not been aggressive enough in stopping the steep economic decline.

In a recent address to parliament, Mr. Yushchenko said Ukraine had lost its foreign markets, particularly for steel and chemicals, and 60 percent of its exports in the wake of the global economic crisis.

“We were ill-prepared to confront the crisis, and its first blow was painful and difficult. … The consequence of this was a slowdown in [gross domestic product] growth in 2008 to 2.1 percent … and a destructive fall of 25 [percent] to 30 percent according to figures from January to February 2009,” he said.

Ukraine is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to receive a second tranche of a $16.5 billion loan to stabilize its economy.

Ukraine’s next presidential elections initially were scheduled for Jan. 17, but parliament recently voted to move the date to Oct. 25.

Mr. Yushchenko has said he would support a presidential vote in October if parliamentary elections were held simultaneously.

“I will be taking part in both elections,” he told the Kommersant Ukraina daily on Wednesday. “When I look at the ratings, it does not mean that I have to reach for some heart medication. … I know that behind me are millions of people who share my values.”

The president’s approval rating is 3.5 percent, according to a March survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, a Kiev-based think tank. Mr. Yanukovych led the pack of expected contenders with about 17 percent of the vote, while Mrs. Tymoshenko came in a close second with almost 16 percent.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, 34, a former speaker of parliament who many here say could surge in popularity, now places third with 12 percent. Volodymyr Lytvyn, the current parliament speaker, had 5.9 percent.

Mrs. Bohatyrova said there could be “totally different faces by the time of the election,” but she did not give details.

Some analysts caution against holding simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections.

“It opens up the possibility for falsification and wrongdoing,” said Tanya Boyko of Opora, a nonprofit group that monitors elections. “It will be impossible to ensure open and transparent elections.”

Despite his unhappiness with Mr. Yushchenko, Mr. Mushak, the teacher, said he is skeptical about an October vote.

“For the upper echelons of power, the early elections are a good idea because they are fighting for the presidential chair. But today we don’t see young progressive leaders. The establishment will never let them into power,” said Mr. Mushak, who headed Buchach’s election commission in 2004.

Mr. Mushak said he is concerned that Ukrainian politicians are merely playing musical chairs, with each one taking their turn at the helm but not instituting significant reforms. “We don’t want to play their political games, because they don’t do anything.”

Victoria Vasylenko, 30, a Kiev-based lawyer, agreed.

“It can’t continue this way,” he said. “Ukraine needs leaders who will think about the people, and with these leaders, we will go to Europe. With each day, we lose more and more.”

c Barbara Slavin contributed to this report from Washington.

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