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Then, almost on cue, came Yush- chenko's brush with death. During the tense days leading up to the 2004 presidential election, then candidate Yushchenko fell gravely ill and had to be spirited out of the country for emergency treatment. Austrian doctors discovered the cause of his near-fatal sickness: dioxin poisoning. Yushchenko survived, but with a disfigured face that fueled outrage at the old regime, believed by many to have ordered Yushchenko's assassination. Instead of killing him, however, his rivals became unwitting handmaidens of his revolution.

A declaration echoed across Ukraine in the wake of Yushchenko's ascent: Ya stoyav na Maidani! It means "I stood on the Maidan," Independence Square in the heart of Kyiv. It also means, I was there, I stood up for freedom, I have a right to expect change. During those tense wintry weeks when the old regime tried to hijack the election and the future hung in the balance, Ukrainians young and old flooded the capital, setting up a tent city on the Maidan and taking over the Kreshchatyk, Kyiv's central avenue that doubles as Ukraine's main street. For weeks the world watched the standoff, wondering if civil war would erupt between western Ukraine, Yushchenko's stronghold, and the country's eastern half, home to most of Ukraine's eight million ethnic Russians. It didn't happen. Surrounded by riot troops, the protesters stood their ground in peace. Their only weapons were banners, T-shirts, scarves, and balloons, all the same orange color. The Orange Revolution was born.

In the end the courts sided with Yushchenko, and Ukraine entered an uncharted realm of promise. Soon after his inauguration the new president embarked on a world tour. Blazing through Western capitals, Yushchenko was hailed a hero, a Slavic Nelson Mandela from the old Soviet bloc. Suddenly the elite clubs of the West —NATO and the European Union—loomed on the horizon. Kyiv, meanwhile, was buoyant with hope. For months there was heady talk of a national revival. A land that had languished so long under the rule of license stood on the cusp of a spiritual cleansing. Many Ukrainians for the first time felt proud of being Ukrainian.

By last fall, however, Yushchenko's government had imploded. Corruption charges swirled in Kyiv. Just nine months in office, the presi-dent fired his popular prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and her cabinet. Amid the ensuing burlesque of charges and countercharges, Ukrainians once again were shaking their heads over old troubles. And many faced a new fear: The Orange Revolution, still unfinished, was now endangered.

With the approach of parliamentary elec-tions this spring, Ukraine again stands on the precipice. Will pro-reform forces overcome their infighting? Can Yushchenko, born in the east of Ukraine but driven by the aspirations of the west, bridge his nation's divisions and move it closer to integration with Europe and the West? Will efforts to weed out corruption and steer the economy toward a free market keep moving forward or stall? If progress made since protesters stormed the Maidan 15 months ago is a predictor, any push for lasting reform will have to surmount entrenched opposition.

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