- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

KIEV Yulia Tymoshenko, a former energy magnate and the driving force behind recent protests against President Leonid Kuchma, has given voice to millions of disaffected Ukrainians who are barely eking out a living in this former Soviet republic.

Mrs. Tymoshenko, a member of Ukraine's parliament, promises more demonstrations beginning today until she reaches her goal of getting Mr. Kuchma to resign.

"I want to see my country where a new spirit in the economic and social life is created," she said in a telephone interview. "I have given my life to honest politics."

Proving her honesty has been a challenge lately.

Mrs. Tymoshenko was a business associate of Pavlo Lazarenko, a former prime minister.

Mr. Lazarenko, who was close to Mr. Kuchma, has been accused of siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars from Ukrainian government coffers.

Mrs. Tymoshenko and her husband were recently detained in Ukrainian prisons for financial crimes but later released for lack of evidence.

Ukrainian authorities aren't letting up the pressure. The prosecutor general's office has asked lawmakers to lift Mrs. Tymoshenko's immunity to allow her to be tried, claiming she misappropriated state funds.

Lawmakers have declined to take such a step, although some believe the legislature will return to the issue.

"That they are all using their tools to ruin me is a compliment," Mrs. Tymoshenko said. "All those that hate me show that they are afraid of me as a political, not economic, opponent."

For his part, Mr. Kuchma does not disguise his distaste for Mrs. Tymoshenko.

In an interview with The Washington Times last year, he said there was "no bigger oligarch" than Mrs. Tymoshenko, a reference to wealthy tycoons involved in shady business deals.

In a country that has been short of politicians who can capture the imagination, it is Mrs. Tymoshenko's tough talk that is winning her an audience.

When Mrs. Tymoshenko appeared at a memorial service in the regional capital of Lviv 40 days after an aviation air show disaster took the lives of 83 persons there, she was greeted with a murmur of approval and warm applause.

The growing support is also getting her blocked from the largely government-controlled media.

When Mrs. Tymoshenko does appear on television, it is usually in a negative light. Over the weekend, the main government-run television station focused on her legal troubles with an editorial comment running throughout.

Because she does not have media access, Mrs. Tymoshenko is taking her message to the public.

"I really love these people," she said of her travels throughout Ukraine. "Because I don't have access to television, I have to meet with people. The live discussions are what I most treasure."

With much of Ukraine's political life now focused on the 2004 presidential race, Mrs. Tymoshenko said it is critical that democratic forces consolidate and put forward one candidate.

Whether that person be she or Victor Yushchenko, the reformist former prime minister who was fired from his post last year with the tacit approval of Mr. Kuchma, remains to be seen.

Mr. Yushchenko still has the highest approval rating of any Ukrainian politician and is the leading presidential contender.


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