President of Ukraine
Born Viktor Andriyovich Yushchenko, February 23, 1954, in Khoruzhivka, Sums'ka Oblast, Ukraine; son of Andriy Andriyovych (a teacher) and Varvara Tymofiyovna (a teacher) Yushchenko; married and divorced first wife; married Kateryna Chumachenko (a former U.S. State Department official), 1998; children: a son and a daughter (from first marriage), a son and two daughters (from second marriage). Education: Earned degree in economics from Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute, 1975.
Addresses: Office —Ukrainian President's Public Reception Office, 12 Shovkovychna St., Kiev, Ukraine.
Chief accountant assistant on a collective farm, 1975; served in Soviet Army frontier troops stationed on Turkish border, 1975-76; began at State Bank of the Soviet Union, 1976, as acting economist, became chief of the Ulyanovsk department; deputy director of administration, USSR State Bank, Ukrainian Republican Office, 1985-87; department head, deputy chairman of the Board of Directors, Ukrainian Agro-Industrial Bank, 1988-90; deputy, first deputy chairman of the board, Republican Bank "Ukraina," 1990-93; chair and governor, National Bank of Ukraine, 1993-99; appointed prime minister of Ukraine, 1999, resigned after a vote of noconfidence in February, 2001; director, Borys Yeltsin Ukrainian-Russian Institute of Management and Business, 2001-02; elected to Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine national assembly), March, 2002; became leader of the "Our Ukraine" parliamentary faction, 2002, and chair of the All-Ukrainian "Our Ukraine"
Viktor Yushchenko triumphed in a brutal political battle for the presidency of Ukraine in late 2004. He led a political coalition called Nasha Ukrayina ("Our Ukraine"), but lost a run-off election widely believed to have been rigged in favor of a candidate who had the support of Vladimir Putin, the president of Ukraine's powerful neighbor and former master, Russia. Yushchenko, by contrast, was a pro-West economist who enjoyed broad popular as well as international support, and when the runoff election results were announced in the other candidate's favor, protesters began to gather at the main square in Kiev, the Ukraine capital.
Despite the customary Ukraine subzero late autumn temperatures, Yushchenko's supporters stood firm until a second run-off election was held, after which he was declared the legitimate winner of the presidency of Ukraine, a nation of 47 million squeezed into a landmass roughly the size of Texas. Heavily industrialized and rich in natural resources, Ukraine is also caught at a unique crossroads thanks to its geographic position between Eastern Europe and Russia. Ukrainians, traditionally suspicious of their Russian neighbors after a long and bloody history between the two powers, had struggled to create a new, democratic post-Soviet government. Thus Yushchenko's victory had great significance for pro-European Ukrainians, but it also had wider implications for the political landscape of Europe. "It showed," wrote Jason Bush and Roman Olearchyk in BusinessWeek, "that a decade and a half after the end of the cold war, Europe is not doomed to a new continental divide that would abandon Ukraine and the other states of the old Soviet Union to authoritarian systems characterized by rigged elections and political intimidation."
Yushchenko was born in 1954 in Khoruzhivka, a town in the oblast, or province, of Sums'ka in Ukraine's north. At the time of his birth, the country was attached to the Soviet Union as one of its constituent republics. Both of his parents were teachers, and his father was a World War II veteran who had been captured and taken prisoner by Nazi German forces, and incarcerated in Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp where Jews were exterminated as part of Nazi Germany's "Final Solution" to eradicate the Jews of Europe.
As a young man, Yushchenko studied economics at a college in Ternopil in Ukraine's eastern region, and after earning his degree in 1975 took a job as an agricultural accountant on one of the large collective farms of the Soviet era, when private property or free enterprise were virtually nonexistent. He served a year in the Soviet Army, and in 1976 joined the State Bank in Ulyanovsk, a city in Russia, as an economist. He eventually rose to chief of the Ulyanovsk branch, and in 1985 was appointed to a deputy director's post at the State Bank's Ukrainian headquarters. He moved in 1988 to Kiev's Agro-Industrial Bank as a manager, and when that bank was reorganized in 1990 and its name changed to "Ukrayina," he served as the deputy chairman of its supervisory board.
Much changed in Ukraine since Yushchenko had started his career back in the mid-1970s. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who took office in 1985, ushered in a series of reforms that eventually led to a swift and relatively bloodless end of communism in the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin came to power in 1991, and continued the reforms already underway that were taking the Soviet Union from a state-planned socialist economy to a free-market one. Ukraine declared its independence that same year, and followed a similar economic reform program. Despite his training as a Soviet-regime banker, Yushchenko had little trouble adjusting to the new era, and even came to play a leading role in the transition. In 1993, he became head of the new National Bank of Ukraine.
Yushchenko was a key figure in Ukraine's successful adoption of the hryvnia in 1996, which replaced the Soviet ruble. He also played a part in the creation of a new regulatory system for commercial banking in the post-Soviet era. But the Ukrainian economy was still tangled with that of Russia, and when the ruble decreased in value and Russia plunged into economic turmoil in 1998, Yushchenko managed to keep the value of the hryvnia stable despite the hyperinflation and recession that resulted. Thanks to his leadership role and growing popularity, in late 1999 Yushchenko was made the country's prime minister in a surprise move by Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma in the midst of Kuchma's own governance crisis.
Yushchenko held the office for less than two years, and was ousted in a 2001 battle between the Ukrainian government and its coal-mining and natural gas industries. Kuchma had strong alliances with the new Ukrainian oligarchs, the business moguls who bought up large stakes in the formerly state-owned industries in the 1990s, and quickly amassed immense fortunes thanks to their government deals. Yushchenko's prudent economic policies were often opposed by the oligarchs, and some of the members of the Verkhovna Rada, or Ukrainian parliament, who were beholden to the oligarchs for their own political success, conspired with the more leftist-leaning Rada members to oust Yushchenko with a no-confidence vote. His ouster prompted a massive demonstration in Kiev, and he promised his supporters that he would return to political office soon.
In 2002 Yushchenko emerged as head of a new political coalition, Nasha Ukrayina (Our Ukraine), that won 26 percent of the Rada seats in March legislative elections that year. Our Ukraine was created when several parties united in opposition to Kuchma's autocratic rule to challenge him. Despite winning 112 out of the 450 seats in the Rada, the coalition was essentially powerless, however, and unable to form a coalition with other opposition parties in the Rada. Meanwhile, Kuchma's government was mired in several notorious corruption scandals, and even linked to the murder of an investigative journalist who had written unfavorably about Kuchma and his cronies.
Kuchma's two-term limit as president was set to expire in 2004. His prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, became his handpicked party successor, and Yushchenko declared himself an independent candidate for the presidency. He ran with Yuliya Tymoshenko, a successful businesswoman-turned-Rada member whom he had named to his cabinet during his 1999-2001 stint as prime minister. Tymoshenko, who founded a successful video rental chain in 1989 and then went on to run several influential oil and natural-gas concerns in Ukraine, was set to become the first female prime minister if Yushchenko's ticket won the October 31, 2004, balloting.
The run-up to the campaign was a heated one. Yushchenko campaigned on a platform that advocated more ties to Europe and the West, greater openness in governmental affairs, and a re-examination of some of the business deals that the Kuchma government had entered into that gave away the formerly state-run enterprises to the powerful Ukraine or Russian oligarchs. Yushchenko supported the idea of allowing foreign investment instead. This prompted his political opponents to denounce Yushchenko as a puppet of foreign governments, and even claim that his wife, Kateryna, was a spy. This accusation was linked to the fact that she was a Ukrainian-American from Chicago, and had once worked at the U.S. State Department before she wed Yushchenko. But the most shocking event of the 2004 election came on September 21, when Yushchenko—known for his movie-star looks—appeared before the Rada with his face covered with terrible cysts. He told his shocked audience that he had been poisoned by his political enemies.
Yushchenko had fallen ill in the first week of September, and traveled to an Austrian clinic for treatment. Doctors initially suspected some sort of trouble with his pancreas, possibly the result of a viral infection that was linked to unknown chemical substances. His face had changed almost overnight, becoming bloated and pockmarked in a condition known as chloracne. A prominent Dutch toxicolo-gist saw news footage of Yushchenko, and asked the Austrian clinic if he could test some of Yushchenko's blood; the scientist's hunch proved correct, and it was announced that Yushchenko had been poisoned with dioxin, an extremely toxic byproduct of pesticide manufacturing and other chemical processes.
Yushchenko claimed that the poisoning had happened at a midnight dinner on September 5, when he met with senior Ukrainian officials that included the head of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), or secret police. He fell ill the next day, but medical professionals cast doubt on this dinner as the culprit for the dioxin poisoning, noting that symptoms generally take a minimum of three days to appear. There were other possible unknown suspects, including perhaps someone within Yushchenko's inner circle, or someone working for the organized crime syndicates that have grown immensely powerful in the post-Soviet era. He continued to campaign, despite crippling back pains from the dioxin levels.
On October 31, 2004, Yushchenko and his ticket won 39.87 percent of the ballots, with the Yanukovych slate taking 39.32 percent of the vote. Ukrainian election laws stipulate that the presidential winner is one with a 50 percent margin, and so a run-off vote was scheduled for November 21. On that day, there were allegations of voting fraud and election irregularities, including voter intimidation, cases of multiple voting, and votes for Yanukovych that came in after the polls closed. Exit polls of voters suggested that Yushchenko carried strong lead, but instead the final tally showed Yanukovych had won by three percent.
Ukrainians turned out in large numbers to protest the results. They camped out in Kiev's Independence Square, near the main government buildings, and in the public squares of other Ukrainian cities. Television cameras broadcast the Kiev vigil around the world, and it was soon dubbed the Orange Revolution for the ribbons that supporters of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko wore. The crisis prompted the Ukraine Supreme Court to examine the election results, and its judges overturned the Yanukovych victory and ordered another run-off to be held on December 26. In that one, widely monitored by teams of international observers and judged to have been conducted fairly, Yushchenko won by an eight-percent margin, or more than two million votes.
The loser, Yanukovych, did not resign from the government leadership immediately, as is customary in the country for an outgoing prime minister and his cabinet. There were some worries that a more dangerous stand-off was looming, for the Orange Revolution supporters were still camping out on Independence Square, but when they blockaded Yanukovych's cabinet offices at news of a scheduled meeting that last December week, Yanukovych finally resigned. On New Year's Eve, Yushchenko addressed a new crowd that had gathered in the Square for the holiday countdown and unofficial victory celebration. "We have been independent for 14 years," he told the joyous Ukrainians, according to a Time International report, "but we have not been free. Today we are independent and free."
Yushchenko was inaugurated as an independent Ukraine's third president on January 23, 2005, with Tymoshenko taking office as the country's first female prime minister. During his first months in office, he ordered a major reorganization of the corruption-riddled bureaucracy, replacing some 18,000 officials. He also moved to halt the privatization process of a few companies that had formerly been state-owned entities and then sold off to groups of private investors. In early April, he visited U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, and spoke before Congress as well. He urged the United States to lend support to Ukraine's bid to become a member of the European Union. In September of 2005, Yushchenko fired his entire government, amid political squabbling among its members. "I am setting before the new team one task—the ability to work as one," he said, according to CNN.com.
Yushchenko is the father of three daughters and two sons, two of them adult children from a first marriage that ended in divorce. He has a son and two daughters from his 1998 marriage to Kateryna Chumachenko, who became a Ukrainian citizen after her husband took office. Yushchenko's hobbies are considered typical Ukrainian ones: mountaineering and beekeeping. He made his annual climb of Hoverla, the Ukraine's highest mountain, in July of 2005 after receiving permission from his doctors, who were still monitoring his health after the dioxin poisoning. The culprits remain at large.
BusinessWeek, May 30, 2005, p. 44.
Fortune International, February 7, 2005, p. 22.
New York Times, December 20, 2004, p. A1.
Time International, December 20, 2004, p. 30; January 10, 2005, p. 34.
Times (London, England), December 28, 2004, p. 28.
"Viktor Yushchenko: Biography," President of Ukraine Official Website, http://www.president. gov.ua/en/content/101_e.html (August 22, 2005).
"Yushchenko fires government," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/09/08/ukraine.yushchenko/index.html (September 8, 2005).
— Carol Brennan