Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko is scheduled to be sworn in as the next president of Ukraine Sunday, capping nearly three months of political unrest that threatened to divide the nation and derail relations with Moscow.
The election of Ukraine's third president since Independence has been a struggle to the bitter end, with multiple court battles, massive fraud, street protests and even a poisoning, but the nation appears on the brink of change with Sunday's swearing-in of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
The 50-year-old former central banker turned opposition leader swept to power in part by the sheer grit of the Ukrainian people, who turned out by the tens-of-thousands to protest the fraud plagued first round of elections that gave a victory to his rival Viktor Yanukovych.
Large crowds of supporters are expected to return to the streets of Kiev Sunday to celebrate the swearing in of Mr. Yushchenko, who many now call "the people's president."
Mr. Yushchenko has said his victory is a victory for all people who believe in good over evil and truth over lies.
But not everyone agrees with Mr. Yushchenko that Sunday marks a national celebration.
His defeated rival, Viktor Yanukovych, has vowed to continue his legal appeals contesting the election before a European Court, saying the rights of millions of Ukrainians were trampled. He also vows to head a tough opposition to Mr. Yushchenko ahead of the March 2006 parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, in Yanukovych's traditional stronghold of Donetsk, a tent camp that started with 18 people and three tents has grown over the week to several hundred people and more than 30 tents. Similar protest actions have been reported in Dniepropetrovsk and Lugansk.
President-elect Yushchenko has said unifying the country after the nearly three-month election saga will be one of his first priorities.
To highlight that, he will begin his presidency Monday with a one-day visit to Russia, where he is expected to meet President Putin and reaffirm Ukraine's intention to maintain strong ties with Russia.
Mr. Yushchenko will then head out on a four-day European trip aimed at promoting his pledge to integrate Ukraine into the democratic community of western nations.
The United States earlier congratulated Mr. Yushchenko and the Ukrainian people for their courage in standing up for democracy. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is to travel to Ukraine for Mr. Yushchenko's swearing-in ceremony. Numerous European leaders have also confirmed their plans to attend.
Friday, a heavy dusting of snow settled on fresh orange draping decorating the columns of the concert hall adjacent to the square where the festivities will be held. Thick black smoke also continued to billow from the nearby tent camp, where hundreds of pro-Yushchenko supporters remain camped out, until his swearing-in has been completed.