- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian presidential hopeful Viktor Yanukovych tried to look every part the winner Friday evening as he mounted the stage before thousands of cheering supporters to the accompaniment of a victorious fanfare two days before the vote.

On a square a block away, bitter rival Yulia Tymoshenko delivered a somber address to her followers, flanked by more than a dozen bearded priests in black frocks. Her campaign seemed to be losing momentum, and observers said victory appears to be slipping from her grasp.

The celebrity-studded festivities of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which made Tymoshenko an international icon, seemed a distant memory.

The starkly contrasting final salvos effectively marked the end to a hotly contested campaign as Ukrainians prepare for Sunday’s vote.

Perhaps smelling victory and vengeance in the air, Yanukovych promised to lay his opponent’s legacy to rest.

“On Feb. 7, it will be the last day of the Orange epoch,” he said, as thousands waved pennants bearing his campaign slogan, “Yanukovych, Our President.”

At his rally, pop bands and comedians performed against the backdrop of a dazzling light show. Some of the louder acts drowned out Tymoshenko’s event, even luring away some of her younger followers.

It was, perhaps, the fitting end to a race that could turn into a repudiation of the Orange ideals.

If Yanukovych wins, it will be an impressive reversal of fortune. His Kremlin-backed election as president five years ago triggered the mass Orange protests, and his win was thrown out on grounds of fraud.

Tymoshenko, the prime minister, says Yanukovych is once again plotting to steal the vote and has vowed to mobilize her army of supporters to stop him.

But it’s not clear whether Ukrainians, exhausted by years of political turmoil, will take to the streets.

“People no longer believe in politicians and they won’t go to the Maidan,” said 37-year-old businessman Pyotr Ridno, referring to Kiev’s central square where vast crowds rallied for weeks in late 2004.

Others said they would rally to defend the Orange revolt.

“If we do not help Yulia to win, then dark days await Ukraine and we will return to the past,” said Nina Krikun, a 70-year-old retiree. “My whole life was spent in Soviet poverty. And I will do everything to ensure my grandchildren live in a different Ukraine.”

But many have grown cynical about Tymoshenko, whose political fortunes foundered as she tried to steer the country through stormy economic straits.

“Look around, you don’t see a drop of the color orange anywhere,” 57-year-old retired engineer Valentina Zaichenko said at the Yanukovych rally. “Even Yulia has dropped it, because it stands for disorder. It stands for nonsense.”

On Friday evening, Tymoshenko led an improvised prayer service, invoking the need for “love” and “wisdom.” Around her, stood priests and other leaders of the faithful from numerous denominations, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Patriarch Filaret — an apparent bid to cast herself as the candidate of unity and traditional values.

Later, a female soloist led a male choir in a solemn religious hymn called “The Road to the Temple.”

Yanukovych won handily in the first round of voting last month, 35 percent to 25 percent. Tymoshenko is expected to close at least some of the gap by picking up votes splintered among candidates in the first round.

But whatever the outcome of the race, political observers say Tymoshenko isn’t likely to concede easily.

“Regardless of what the gap between them is — one and a half percent or 10 percent — she will not accept defeat,” said Mikhail Pogribinsky, director of the Kiev Center of Political Research and Conflict Studies.

“Then we will enter a new era of instability until a broad agreement is reached between the winner and the loser,” he said.

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