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Profile: Yuliya Tymoshenko, Ousted Revolution Heroine, Prepares For A Comeback

By Daisy Sindelar

She was called the "Joan of Arc" of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. With her striking looks and trademark wrap-over braid, 45-year-old Yuliya Tymoshenko was a galvanizing presence during the tumultuous weeks of December 2004, and a key ally of the man who would become president, Viktor Yushchenko. Tymoshenko was ultimately rewarded with the premiership, and set out to battle corruption in the country's political and entrepreneurial ranks. But just eight months later, she was unceremoniously ousted by Yushchenko. Since then, Tymoshenko has set her sights firmly on the March 26 parliamentary election. Her political bloc is likely to be a part of any future coalition government -- and she may even get a second chance as prime minister.

PRAGUE, March 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Tymoshenko, speaking to Yushchenko supporters at a Kyiv rally in November 2004, proclaimed: "You have kindled a flame of hope for all CIS countries that do not have democratic systems yet. Today, hope rests on you, not only in Ukraine but in the whole world."

But years before she was queen of the Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko had a less flattering nickname -- "gas princess."

Good Fortune

That was when, during Ukraine's post-Soviet privatization, she gained considerable influence -- and a sizeable personal fortune -- in the country's energy sector.

Her sudden fortune led many to suspect she and her husband, Oleksandr -- who himself became one the country's richest oligarchs through the metals-export trade -- gained their wealth through dubious means.

Some have argued, however, that Tymoshenko's big-business background made her uniquely qualified at her stated political aim -- fighting corruption in government and entrepreneurial structures.

Serving as deputy prime minister in Yushchenko's government under then-President Leonid Kuchma, Tymoshenko was credited with cleaning up the energy sector, forcing industries to pay for utilities and increasing tax-revenue collections by several thousand percent.

In Her Prime

That success -- and her loyal support during the Orange Revolution -- was rewarded in February 2005, when she was confirmed as the country's new prime minister.

Speaking just after the vote, Tymoshenko vowed to work hard to raise living standards, wipe out corruption, and bring Ukraine closer to the European Union.

"I want to assure you that I will under no circumstances disappoint the people of Ukraine, the president of Ukraine, or any one of you (members of parliament)," Tymoshenko said. "I want you to know that I view the trust you have given me today as the highest value in my life and I will not damage it by any step I take."

In July 2005, "Forbes" magazine named Tymoshenko the third most powerful woman in the world, after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi.

Fall From Grace

But just two months later, she and her government had been dismissed. Yushchenko accused her of failing to protect key presidential allies from corruption allegations and leading Kyiv into an economic slowdown.

Tymoshenko at first adopted a forgiving tone, saying: "I did everything I could to save our unity and will continue to do so. Despite the fact that the president (Viktor Yushchenko) has accused me of various acts against national interests, I believe the president can always take the road back. Anyone, even a president, can recognize mistakes and return to normal cooperation."

But she has since sharpened her rhetoric, criticizing Yushchenko for cooperating in a murky gas deal with Russia and accusing him of considering a possible coalition with his pro-Moscow Orange Revolution rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

Strong Position

The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc is one of the three principal groupings in the March 26 elections, together with Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and Yanukovych's Party of Regions. A coalition is inevitable, but its composition is still uncertain.

Tymoshenko, while deeply unpopular in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, has a strong support base in the Ukrainian-speaking west. She is likely to be one of the major players once the bargaining begins for the premiership.

It's clearly a post she wants. Tymoshenko, in a recent interview, said: "For the good of the people, I will not entrust this task to anyone else."

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org