Ukraine’s jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whose plight in prison has soured relations between the country’s leadership and the West, was moved to a local hospital yesterday in a high--security police convoy.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has faced growing criticism over the conviction of Tymoshenko — and the authorities’ refusal to let her travel abroad for treatment for chronic back pain.
Her transfer from prison in the eastern city of Kharkiv to a nearby hospital for treatment under the supervision of German doctors was worked out last week in a compromise.
However, yesterday’s early-morning transfer seemed unlikely to relieve pressure on Yanukovych, who has been thrown on the back-foot by sharp Western criticism of his treatment of his rival.
Tymoshenko, 51, a former prime minister, was jailed in October last year for seven years for alleged abuse of power while in office, a charge she denied.
She says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovych, who narrowly beat her for the presidency in February 2010. The EU and the US have condemned her trial and sentencing as politically motivated and called for her to be released.
Outcry in the West intensified after Tymoshenko said she had been beaten in jail and went on hunger strike on April 20 in protest against alleged ill-treatment. Authorities have denied she was mistreated.
Her daughter, Yevgenia, said on Tuesday her mother had agreed to end her hunger strike under the supervision of a German doctor in a local hospital.
Eyewitnesses in Kharkiv said Tymoshenko was brought to a side entrance of the hospital by ambulance in a heavily guarded convoy that included several police cars.
Two lines of white-coated hospital staff shielded her as she was carried into the hospital on a stretcher, preventing journalists and onlookers catching a glimpse of her.
A few supporters nearby shouted out “Freedom for Yulia!”
The state prison service, in a statement, confirmed she had been moved to hospital “for the course of rehabilitation recommended by the international medical commission.”
Yanukovych appeared placid and untroubled at World War II Victory Day celebrations yesterday, despite the growing political pressure.
Addressing war veterans in Kiev, he spoke of the need to defend world peace by shunning “populism of all types,” but remained silent about Tymoshenko.