Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Ukrainians disillusioned about orange revolution

BROKEN PROMISES Ukraine infighting and widespread disillusionment mar the one-year anniversary of the country's uprising against corruption and electoral fraud

THE GUARDIAN , KIEV

It was late evening one year ago when the Ukrainian opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, issued his rousing call for an uprising against the skewed election.

Andriy Chuprin, a burly 43-year-old entrepreneur, heard the rallying cry to Kiev's rain-lashed Independence Square on television at home in the suburbs.

"I threw on my coat and took the last metro to Maidan," he said.

Only Andriy and a handful of shivering protesters kept vigil on that first night of Nov. 21. But within days they were joined by half a million banner-waving Ukrainians, screaming for the presidential election that had awarded victory to then prime minister Viktor Yanukovich to be overturned.

"We wanted to live in a new democratic country without corruption and vote fraud," Andriy said.

For weeks the "orange revolution" dominated headlines across the world. In the end it swept Yushchenko, a pro-Western reformer, to the presidency.

Yet, one year on, the euphoria of that people-power victory has transformed into bitter disappointment. An opinion poll this week indicated that 57 percent of Ukrainians think the orange promises have been broken.

"It turned out our new leaders acted the same old way as their predecessors," Andriy says.

For two-and-a-half months, he and thousands of others camped out in Kiev, refusing to accept Yanukovich's victory after monitors reported gross election fraud. Dressed in the orange of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, they cheered speeches by his charismatic ally Yulia Timoshenko, whose striking looks and traditional peasant braid made her the icon of the revolution.

The protesters were caked in grime, often cold and hungry, but their leaders buoyed them up with vows to sweep away the hardline regime of outgoing president and Soviet throwback Leonid Kuchma.

"There was a great sense of brotherhood and hope," Andriy recalls.

Yushchenko's victory sent his supporters home in rude spirits. But with revolutionary fervor seeping away, economic growth soon nosedived as arguments emerged between the orange leaders over the country's course.

The pro-Russian south and east of the country, which supported Yanukovich, retreated from threats to secede but claims of persecution persisted. And in September the fragile unity of Yushchenko's team was finally exploded when his chief of staff resigned, accusing key figures of corruption.

The allegations prompted two other high-ranking politicians to resign before the president stepped in to dismiss his prime minister, Timoshenko, and her entire government. It emerged that she had been locked in a battle for influence with her one-time rival for the premiership, Petro Poroshenko, the head of the national defense and security council. Furious, Timoshenko responded to her sacking by accusing the president of "ruining our public unity" and promising to lead her parliamentary bloc in elections next March.

Maidan veterans have been bewildered at the split between stars of the protests, whose enmities are such that they have refused to stand together on stage during anniversary celebrations last Tuesday.

Oksana Potapenko, 25, who helped coordinate supplies to the tent city, says: "A lot of people think Yushchenko treated Timoshenko very shabbily. He's not a messiah anymore."

The president angered his supporters further when he signed a controversial memorandum -- giving, among other concessions, immunity from prosecution to local councilors -- with his former arch-foe, the pro-Russian Yanukovich.

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