- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

KIEV — Viktor Yushchenko is the face of Ukraine’s “orange revolution.” And it is not a face he is proud of.

The man who was once described as the Bill Clinton of Eastern Europe because of his charisma and good looks is now horribly disfigured by what he believes was an attempt to poison him during the political battle for control of his country.

As he sat in the office of his wood-paneled dacha in the suburbs of Kiev this weekend, Mr. Yushchenko vowed to expose all the details of the plot that has left his face scarred with pockmarks and a complexion the color of dark-blue bruising.

“I am sitting here with a completely different face,” he said in his first interview since the result of Ukraine’s Nov. 21 presidential election was overturned. “I know the country I live in, and I was expecting that something would happen to me, but I did not expect that it would happen in this way.”

Precisely what happened remains a mystery. All he knows is that he collapsed shortly after attending a dinner hosted by senior officials of Ukraine’s SBU secret police a few weeks before the country’s elections.

He was taken to a hospital on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, where a doctor declared that he rarely had seen such a catastrophic condition without being able to give a proper diagnosis.

Mr. Yushchenko was in a critical condition for days and is convinced that he was poisoned in an attempt to prevent him from running against the government candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.

Now the 50-year-old hero of Ukraine’s remarkably peaceful revolution is determined to find out what happened to him.

“These people would stop at nothing to stay in power,” he said. “They were prepared to cause bloodshed. They were prepared to start a civil war. They cared nothing for Ukraine. All they cared about was themselves.

“Soon the world will know what happened. I will reveal all the details of what they gave me to look like this.”

However, when asked whether he suspected that Russian authorities were involved, he refused to answer.

“This is a subject that is too deep to go into now,” he replied enigmatically.

Apart from Mr. Yushchenko’s disfigurement, the revolution, as the Ukrainians call the events of the past few weeks, has exacted a heavy toll on his family.

“Even today, my family cannot live in Kiev,” he said. “My children can’t go to school. I believe the worst is behind us, but still, it is not safe for my family. It will not be safe until we have completed the political transformation of this country.”

As he spoke, details were emerging of the mysterious death on Friday afternoon of Yuri Lyakh, the personal adviser of Viktor Medvedchuk, the outgoing head of Ukraine’s civil service under President Leonid Kuchma.

Mr. Lyakh, who knew all of the financial details of the Kuchma regime, was reported to have committed suicide after writing a note stating “Sorry.” However, police officials, who have pledged their loyalty to Mr. Yushchenko’s Nasha Ukraina (Our Ukraine) party, are treating the death as suspicious after the postmortem confirmed that Mr. Lyakh had died of a slit throat.

Mr. Kuchma has yet to sign off on the Supreme Court decision overturning the vote, and a dispute remains over the arrangements for the Dec. 26 election. But Mr. Yushchenko was in no doubt that the restarted election would result in him taking office in the new year.

“If the old regime tries to interfere in any way and tries to defy the will of the people and of parliament, we will simply storm our way into the Cabinet office. This is what the people expect,” he said.

But once in office, Mr. Yushchenko will have to try to reunite a bitterly divided country.

The predominantly Russian-speaking provinces of eastern Ukraine, which wanted to maintain close ties with Moscow, have said they will hold a referendum in January on whether to secede from Ukraine. They are wary of Mr. Yushchenko’s declared policy of forging closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union and NATO.

But Mr. Yushchenko said, “I do not believe that Ukraine is split between those who favor Europe and those who favor Russia, of East and West.

“There are politicians and other forces that would like to make this distinction, but this is not how the ordinary people see it.”

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