Ukraine's ruling elite was grimly silent yesterday as news emerged that opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko was probably poisoned by an Agent Orange chemical before the former Soviet republic's vital repeat presidential vote.
The bizarre campaign for the nation's presidency got officially underway for the third time yesterday with a senior European envoy arriving in Kiev to check on the chances of the country holding a fair vote.
But there was no immediate information on whom the Council of Europe's Secretary General Terry Davis would meet amid struggles between Europe and Russia over influence in a country that has served in the past decade as a bridge between Moscow and the West.
Meanwhile, Yushchenko, leaving a Vienna clinic yesterday, said he was happy to be alive and compared the support for him in Ukraine to the groundswell that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Speaking at a brief news conference before checking out of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic, Yushchenko lauded the decision of thousands in Ukraine to take to the streets to protest the outcome of presidential elections "We haven't seen anything like that for the past 100 years," he said. "I think it would be appropriate to compare this to the fall of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin Wall."
Yushchenko thanked the medical staff who determined he had been poisoned, which caused him extreme internal pain and left his once-handsome face pocked and gray.
Doctors said had the dose of dioxin been greater, it could have been fatal but that he is now getting better and is capable of returning to the campaign trail.
``They've spent many days and nights with me and I am very happy to be alive in this world today,'' Yushchenko said. ``I thank these people for this.''
Yushchenko fell ill Sept. 5 and has been treated at the Vienna clinic twice before, but it was tests performed since he checked in Friday night that provided conclusive evidence of the poisoning, said hospital director Dr. Michael Zimpfer.
``There is no doubt about the fact that Mr. Yushchenko's disease -- especially following the results of the blood work -- has been caused by a case of poisoning by dioxin,'' Zimpfer said on Saturday.
Kiev itself was calm yesterday morning as hundreds of opposition demonstrators camped out in olive tents in the capital, some breaking wood for heat over open fires, others sketching caricatures of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And though officials were silent, everywhere on the streets there was talk of Saturday's report of poisoning from dioxin.
"Everyone knew that he was poisoned. Now even more people will vote for him," said Taras, a 22-year-old from a region in western Ukraine that supports the opposition.
The comment appeared to reflect confidence in the demonstrators, young and old alike, over the Western-leaning Yushchenko's victory in a poll now set for Dec. 26 against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukoviche.