Ukraine’s jailed opposition leader and former Ukranian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Wednesday halted a 20-day hunger strike after she was moved to a hospital to defuse a crisis overshadowing the Euro 2012 soccer competition.
Ukraine’s prison authorities in the early morning transferred Tymoshenko from her jail in the eastern city of Kharkiv to the hospital where she will receive treatment from a German doctor for severe back pain.
The doctor confirmed that the 51-year-old had ended the hunger strike she began last month in protest at allegedly being roughly handled by prison guards.
“She has halted her hunger strike. We are now building up towards a normal nutrition regime,” Lutz Harms of Berlin’s prestigious Charite hospital said. “This process will take several days.”
“She is very weak and we will need to wait several days for her situation to stabilize,” Harms said, adding that for the moment Tymoshenko was taking in just water and juice and would only start eating food later.
According to her daughter Yevgenia, Tymoshenko lost 10kg while refusing food.
US Senator John McCain said he was pleased Tymoshenko ended her hunger strike, but he called on the Ukrainian authorities to now free all political prisoners.
“While this is a welcome step, the fact remains that prime minister Tymoshenko’s detention is the result of the Ukrainian government’s selective and political prosecution of its peaceful democratic opponents in the country,” McCain said in a statement.
Ukraine is facing a possible extensive EU boycott of the Euro 2012 matches it is co-hosting with Poland in June over its treatment of Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years in October last year, after a trial condemned by the West.
The authorities are hoping the hospital transfer will reduce Western pressure on Kiev as the move complies with Tymoshenko’s demand to be treated by a foreign rather than a Ukrainian specialist.
The prisons service said Tymoshenko left the jail in Kharkiv at 7am and arrived at the hospital, a state establishment run by Ukrainian railways, one hour later.
Kharkiv is one of four Ukrainian cities that will stage Euro 2012 matches in what as to be the biggest showcase for Ukraine since it won independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The prisons service said that during her transfer Tymoshenko made no complaint about her health.
“According to doctors, the state of her health has not deteriorated in the last days,” it said.
Harms, a neurologist who will be assisted by a Ukrainian team, was earlier confirmed by the authorities as Tymoshenko’s official doctor during her hospital stay.
Tymoshenko faces a new trial on May 21 in a separate case where she is accused of tax evasion, but the doctor said it was “highly improbable” that she would be fit enough to attend.
Tymoshenko is confirmed to be suffering from a slipped disc in her spine, but supporters said even before her hunger strike she was extremely frail and unable to walk.
The opposition leader had previously demanded to be treated outside Ukraine, fearing that she could be deliberately infected or poisoned in a Ukrainian establishment.
Amid an escalating diplomatic crisis, Ukraine was on Tuesday forced to scrap plans to host a regional summit scheduled for later this week after most of the participants pulled out in protest.