It Is Precisely Her: Yulia Tymoshenko

In Kyiv, people are awaiting the end of the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, some for less obvious reasons. In the center of town, the two sides gather right next to each other on the main street, Kreshchatic. At precisely 9 a.m. every morning the loudspeaker comes on, blaring an uplifting patriotic song, which says that for everything to change for the better, it depends on us. Then comes the recorded repetitious chanting of “Yulia to Jail!”

The other side counters with “Yulia Is Our President!” and their own pop music tailored for the protests. Back and forth they go with song, rhetoric and flag-waving all day long. During late July these gatherings remained quite peaceful, but for the people who live and work nearby, the sound assault was maddening. One resident called it “audio terror.”

At first it felt like North Korea, with the propaganda screaming, making it impossible to concentrate, sinking into the psyche. An extreme comparison, of course, and once on the street it quickly became apparent that this was more like democracy in action, people practicing their right to protest. Getting closer, the demonstrators were fewer in number than the volume indicated. There was speculation that the regulars from both camps were being paid to stand there every day.

The anti-Yulia side, with the better sound system but less enthusiastic support, was cordoned off by a black scrim. Behind it stood neatly lined up rows of young people waving flags in unison, mostly boys who seemed completely bored.

The open, more populated pro-Yulia side appeared to be truly infatuated with their hero and included men and women of varying ages from different parts of the country. They were eager to pose for the camera.

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Yulia Tymoshenko Trial Demonstrations

Most people walked by and through the crowd totally uninterested. The general feeling leaned more toward apathy and disillusionment with the political process.

Little wonder. The heroic efforts of the Orange Revolution in 2004 saw the Ukrainian people challenging the election and coming out victorious. They rose up and got into office their preferred candidate Victor Yushchenko, who was maimed by poison. His Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, with the signature blonde braid, became the face and largely the voice for the uprising.

Amidst infighting and little improvement in ordinary living conditions during their term, many of the dissatisfied voting public sat out the 2010 election. Tymoshenko ran against Victor Yanukovich, the very man who was ousted by the revolutionary repeat election vote. He won the presidency, and she is facing corruption charges in this current trial.

On August 5th, Tymoshenko was jailed on contempt-of-court charges for allegedly refusing to stand while addressing the judge and repeatedly calling him a puppet of the president. Apparently thousands of people flocked the streets and military blockades were installed, just on time for the 20th year celebration of Ukrainian Independence. Now the trial has been postponed, as the West voices concern that it is politically motivated.

For the latest on the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, click here.

–Dana Davison

(This story was updated September 15, 2011.)