The likelihood is dimming that Yulia Tymoshenko, a Ukrainian gas trader turned ardent presidential oppositionist, will make it through the March 31 elections and win a seat in Ukraine’s new parliament (Verkhovna Rada). January was not a good month for her: Her newspaper was expelled from Kyiv, a relative was accused of embezzlement, a travel ban was reintroduced against her, and finally, she was badly injured in a car accident on January 29.
Tymoshenko suffered a major setback at the start of the campaign when popular former Premier Viktor Yushchenko refused to join forces with her (see the Monitor, October 5). Despite this, however, opinion polls recently registered an increase in support for the bloc of small nationalist parties carrying her name. It seemed as if it might, after all, make it past the 4-percent barrier to the next Rada, not something likely to make President Leonid Kuchma and the government particularly happy. But the recent series of Tymoshenko’s misfortunes looks excessively coincidental.
On December 26, a state-owned Kyiv print shop refused to continue its contract to print Tymoshenko’s newspaper Vecherny Vesti, known for caustic criticism of Kuchma and his inner circle. The explanation–lack of paper–was clearly a lame one. No other shops were willing to start a new contract. Apparently under pressure from the authorities, but with no explanation, publication resumed in Lviv in mid-January.
On January 25, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office ordered the arrest of Tymoshenko’s father-in-law Hennady Tymoshenko, who had taken over Yulia’s gas trading company, United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), in late 1996 when she was elected to the Rada. He and a number of UESU top managers have been charged with embezzlement, tax evasion, smuggling and forgery in 1996-1997. Yulia Tymoshenko and her husband faced the same charges early last year (see the Monitor, January 23, 2001) and in August 2000. Both were arrested, but released after several months due to lack of evidence.
The investigation against Yulia Tymoshenko herself, however, is not yet over. This has proved problematic. After her release from prison, the prosecution succeeded in prohibiting her from traveling outside Kyiv. Campaigning for the March 31 elections thus became that much more difficult. Several weeks ago, however, a district court in Kyiv lifted the ban. Tymoshenko jumped at the opportunity to move about and promptly toured several regions in western Ukraine, hoping to raise support for her nationalist platform. The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, then appealed the district court ruling. And, on January 29, the Kyiv appeals court reinstated the ban. Tymoshenko did not hear the verdict. That morning, her armored Mercedes, on its way to the hearing, was hit by another car at a crossroads in Kyiv. Tymoshenko was hospitalized with a heavy cerebral concussion and chest injuries. Her life is not in danger, doctors say, but she may have to spend several weeks in the hospital.
Kyiv police said initially that the collision was caused by Tymoshenko’s driver, who ignored a traffic controller’s signal. But on January 31 the Internal Affairs Ministry launched a criminal investigation into the accident. Tymoshenko’s allies, predictably, fingered the authorities. “We cannot rule out government involvement,” said Oleksandr Turchynov, Tymoshenko’s right-hand man in her Motherland party. “Ukraine is perfectly familiar with the criminal methodology that characterizes political struggle,” he remarked. Other commentators were more cautious, though many of them did point out the singular rise in car accidents involving top politicians over the past several years. In 1999, Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil died in one. In 2000, the National Security Council secretary Yevhen Marchuk was badly injured. And Volodymyr Lytvyn, chief of the presidential office, is still on sick leave after a car accident on December 29 (UNIAN, December 26; Interfax-Ukraine, January 25; Ukraina Moloda, January 26; Ukrainska Pravda, Ukrainski Novyny, January 29; New Channel TV, January 31).
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