Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko, born 27 November 1960, is a Ukrainian politician. She was the Prime Minister of Ukraine from 24 January to 8 September 2005, and again from 18 December 2007 to 4 March 2010. | Photo: Archives
Maybe Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych heard my call for Western Superheroism to rescue his nemesis Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, or maybe someone just asked him, "Are you having her poisoned?"
The Kiev Post posted on its website Friday an article about a rare and long television interview with Yanukovych aired in Ukraine in which he discussed the case against the former prime minister. According to the Post, "his standoff with the European Union over the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko could be defused later this year. Under fire in Ukraine and abroad for allegedly waging a campaign of political persecution to sideline opponents, Yanukovych claimed that he more than anyone has suffered due to the controversial 7-year sentence handed down upon Tymoshenko. Yanukovych said that he had the most to gain by finding a proper solution."
The president said that legislation will be adopted soon to reform criminal procedural code, which may offer Yulia to further appeal her verdict. Yet, just a few days before, Yanukovich said that Yulia could ask for a pardon. What changed?
When last we visited the politically-driven jailing of Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, Canadian and German doctors were readying to make public statements on her health situation. Ukrainian health officials attempted to discredit the foreign doctors. Her daughter Yevhenia had just interviewed with BBC's HARDtalk and her supporters eagerly waited for the show to air. The European Union, with arms folded and toes impatiently tapping, held off approving any economic or trade agreements with Ukraine until Yanukovych let her out of prison.
Serving a seven-year sentence on abuse of office charges stemming from a 2009 energy deal made with Russia while she was in office, Tymoshenko complained for months of a pain in her back that became more and more debilitating. Deprived of painkillers and proper treatment, Yulia is mistreated in prison, according to her daughter, and is under constant surveillance, with no reprieve from bright lights in her cell or hours-long interrogations.
The behavior of Ukraine's government and its leader president Yanukovych is a public relations nightmare. This is a mess of such epic proportion that it would only be chilling if not for what appears a very real threat to Tymoshenko's health. Yulia's daughter,Yevhenia, and lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, trade chess moves with the Ukrainian officials, often waiting for statements to be released by the government and then quickly answering to those statements.
According to Google Maps, Kharkiv prison, where she is held, is 478 kilometers (297 miles) away from Kiev, a trip taking 6 hours and 19 minutes by car on highway M03, or 8.5 hours by train. It's a convenient place to keep her, since she was much more visible to the public when held at the jail in Kiev. When an independent troupe of foreign doctors traveled to Ukraine to see her, they were held at the airport for 10 hours by Ukrainian officials with limited access to food and beverage. They were given no reason for the delay.
A timeline of interesting events since our last visit to Ukraine follows.
February 20: Yevhenia interviewed with HARDtalk and airing of the show was scheduled for Feb. 21 and 22. She was scheduled as a panelist at the Feb. 23-24 meeting of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Winter Meeting in Vienna. Traveling to speak to government and non-government organizations has dominated the daughter's life since Yulia was imprisoned last fall.
February 21, morning: Czech member of European Parliament Zuzana Roithova, a doctor by profession and former Minister of Health of the Czech Republic, announced that she traveled to Ukraine to see Yulia a few days before to draft a report on her health for the European Parliament. "I now take far more seriously her family's concerns that she might be exposed to the effects of toxic substances to make her submit to the regime's pressure," Roithova told media. "She's really being abused and tormented." Roithova proposed analysis of Yulia's urine and hair to "learn whether she was exposed." The Czech MEP stated this analysis would "prevent her from ending up the way [former Ukrainian president Viktor] Yushchenko did." She was referencing the injuries suffered by Yulia's former colleague in 2004, allegedly poisoned by dioxin. His supporters blamed agents working for Russia. Roithova also said Yulia has a slipped disc. She said the prison gave Yulia crutches and then took them away. Roithova said she was given some of Yulia's medical records from November 2011, which showed problems with her lumbar spine area that required proper treatment with anesthetics, followed by rest and possible surgery. None of those recommendations were followed, partly because Yulia refused treatment by Ukrainian physicians she didn't trust. However, Yulia's lawyer and daughter, available to the public as Yulia's contacts, tell the media and government agencies worldwide that Yulia continually asked for independent medical examinations and treatment. Roithova said she was shocked that the Ukrainian government attacked the professional capacity of the Canadian physicians.
February 21, evening: BBC HARDtalk aired its 23-minute interview with Yevhenia. It was a tough interview, with presenter Stephen Sackur pulling no punches. She had opportunities to clear the air in regard to Yulia's, and her husband Olek's, energy company they ran before they got involved in politics. Here we find that Yevhenia is no spoiled only child enjoying the spotlight. She seems a determined and sincere young woman fighting for her mother's freedom and for democracy to return to Ukraine. She admitted she's reluctant to leave Ukraine each time she travels to speak or to be interviewed, but traveling and speaking is what she can do to help the situation. Her mother is ill and tormented, and Yevhenia isn't allowed to see her. Yulia's lawyer, who is also a Member of Ukraine Parliament, remains in Ukraine, defending Yulia and speaking out each time the government offers what he says is false information. HARDtalk is some pretty high-profile stuff. It was a great opportunity for Yevhenia, and apparently it dealt a blow to president Yanukovich, now a victim of a situation he created.
February 22: A spokesperson for German health clinic Charité spoke to German media outfit Der Spiegel. The German doctors, a neurologist and a physician, who visited with Yulia, came from Charité. They weren't ready to release an official diagnosis and couldn't say much due to doctor-patient confidentiality. Charité's spokesperson said that the patient is "seriously ill." They were given what they called "unhindered" access to Yulia and performed several hours of examination in the presence of a prison doctor on February 14. Canada Newswire reported on Thursday that Canadian doctors agree that she is seriously ill. The three Canadian doctors involved in the independent medical mission said that "every attempt at intimidation by Ukrainian state authorities failed because Ms. Tymoshenko refused to be cowed." She'd quoted the exact article of Ukrainian law that supports her right to health care and her choice of physician. Peter Kujtan, M.D., PhD., agreed with German doctors that Yulia needs blood and toxicology testing. They'd brought proper lab equipment for this process that could produce results immediately, but were told by Ukrainian authorities they couldn't use it. They were told they'd be breaking several laws and could face prosecution. "It was pointed out to them that it was the Ukrainian government who invited us to carry out an examination and that these testing items were listed on the original manifest," Kujtan said.
Imagine having brought all that stuff with you. You and your colleagues sit in the airport for longer than 10 hours with barely a sack of Milk Duds between the five of you and the use of the water fountain every few hours. Then you take the very long drive out to Kharkiv, only to be told that you, as a doctor, can only try to make a diagnosis on an obviously injured and ill patient with only part the information needed to do so.
Dr. Kujtan said Yulia agreed to confidential and independent lab testing, but Ukrainian authorities prevented the collection of any specimens. "Any reports that she refu
|The behavior of Ukraine's government and its leader president Yanukovych is a [PR] nightmare.|
sed independent testing are false," Kujtan said. "I also expressed concerns about injected substances she received that are banned in Canada." Faced with a statement like that, President Yanukovych and Ukraine's government, having already put their feet in the pig sty, suddenly starting scrambling to get out.
Kujtan also said they had no opportunity to see Yulia in private.
About 200 supporters held a rally outside Kharkiv prison.
February 23: Ukraine's penitentiary claimed that Yulia requested further examination by its doctors, and got X-ray imaging, tomography, magnetic resonance therapy but refused a blood test. Yulia's lawyer, answering the press release, said that Yulia did not request examination by prison doctors. She did not get x-rays, tomography or anything else, and was not examined. However he said Yulia insisted on a blood test, taken by independent doctors. "[She] knew nothing about it yesterday. This is not the principal thing, but it demonstrates the manic thrust of the State Penitentiary Service to lie even in small things," Vlasenko told Interfax-Ukraine.
February 23, evening: Yevhenia was a panelist at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, asking that the agency use its investigatory power to "examine the human rights situation in my country" and for it to demonstrate solidarity for the sake the countries' common democratic future. She said her fear grows every day that her mother may be killed in prison.
February 24, morning: Opposition politicians hung a "Freedom for Yulia" banner in parliament to demand immediate consideration of drafting a decision on her release. Their plan was to block the rostrum of the regime's party, literally by using chairs to block entrance doors. It was a sign of protest regarding consideration of the draft law on privatization of the gas transport system of Ukraine. The action was intended to block any decision-making on the part of the current regime and it worked. The day's session failed.
February 24, afternoon: Coalition of Orange Revolution participants, along with "Black Committee" organization members, held a charity event to mark Yanukovych's second year in office. Activity had just started when police visited and arrested four protesters, including one dressed in a costume resembling a condom. They were giving away condoms that depict the president on its cardboard container. Police confiscated the condoms. The phrases on the box read, "Because... real Ukrainian prez" (short form of Ukrainian word for condom) and, "Attention! The party of condoms pervades the country."
February 24, afternoon: Delegates of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee asked to meet with Yulia. The group's chairman Pawel Kowal told Radio Free Europe that if the relevant authorities gave them permission to see her, "I would change all my plans and go to Kharkiv colony…I think such a meeting would be useful to her as a politician who has been removed from the political process."
February 24, evening: Yanukovych, in an interview broadcast on public television stations, admitted that Yulia's trial, and trials of other former officials (her colleagues), "fell short of European standards." He said Ukraine's legislation isn't perfect and didn't meet European principles, agreeing with some commentary by European officials. Yanukovych said Yulia has made a mistake by choosing political and not legal plane for building up her defense, whatever that means. He said he supports the revision of these criminal cases, including hers, after the adoption of the new criminal procedure code, which will comply with European standards. Asked to comment on the case impeding relations with the E.U., Yanukovych said he was interested in having "the right decision" made. He said that he is the person hurt most by the case.
Apparently Yanukovych doesn't think it's too late to blame Yulia's trial, imprisonment and cruel treatment on the way Ukrainian law is written. He'll just come right out and thank the European Union for showing him the light and hope it saves his political career. He also spoke of upcoming October elections, saying, "At present, it is very important that these elections should be fair and transparent." That's what Yulia's been saying since 2004. Yanukovych wasn't counting on the E.U., Canada and the U.S., and numerous other countries banding together to stall him out.
Yanukovych said he cannot consider pardoning her until her appeals are exhausted. He said the E.U.'s demands to allow Yulia and former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko to participate in the 2012 elections are political rather than legal and that existing Ukrainian law needs to be followed, which prevents each from participating in elections. His interview aired on Ukrainian television on Friday evening, 10 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. It appears he could succumb to Western pressure. The E.U.'s and the West's involvement in the Tymoshenko case may even be welcome, considering Yanukovych has come away from recent meetings with Russian officials over the gas prices with nothing in his favor. Finally on Friday, February 24, he rejected Russia's 10% price discount offer, saying the fuel would still be too expensive. He says Ukraine pays $416 per thousand cubic meters of gas and says $250 per sounds better. Russia will review the price only if its gas company (Gazprom) is allowed to take over Ukrainian gas transit pipes to Europe. Or Ukraine can join a Russia-led customs union. Ukraine doesn't want to join.
Ukraine became independent when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. It is the world's third biggest grain exporter and maintains the second largest military in Europe. The largest nuclear power plant in Europe is in Ukraine.
What's next for Yulia sounds like surgery, which is the quickest way out of the prison, albeit temporarily. However, what's next for Ukraine sounds like a losing battle in its energy fight with Russia that could drive the post-Soviet country down the highway that leads to the European Union.