News / Europe

Jailing of Opposition Leader Stirs Debate in Ukraine

Policemen arrest former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, center rear, in the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2011
Policemen arrest former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, center rear, in the Pecherskiy District Court in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2011
James Brooke

Ignoring American, European and Russian criticism, a Ukrainian judge kept the nation’s leading opposition politician, Yulia Tymoshenko, in jail Monday and proceeded with her court trial.

European officials said the trial could endanger a trade association treaty that Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, wants with the European Union.

Known for her trademark golden braid, Ms. Tymoshenko was expected to be the main opposition candidate in next year’s presidential elections.  But if she is convicted, she will not be eligible to run.

Oleh Soskin, who directs the Institute of Society Transformation, a Kyiv think tank, said that Mr. Yanukovych seeks to “liquidate” his chief political rival while the nation is on vacation.  Soskin, like many Kyiv residents, was at his summer vacation home Monday.

As he spoke, several hundred supporters of Ms. Tymoshenko pitched tents near the downtown Kyiv courthouse, waving flags and chanting, “Yulia, we are with you.”

But Natasha Lysova, a Tymoshenko spokeswoman, worried that summer holidays and government pressure will keep the crowds low.

“Problems for people from the regions to come here, some restrictions from the government for drivers of the buses, for owners of the buses, people cannot just come here,” Lysova said.

While Tymoshenko supporters chanted, “Hands off Tymoshenko,” government supporters chanted, "Yulia, sweat it out in jail."

Government spokespeople say Ms.Tymoshenko is one of 400 former officials under investigation for crimes committed while in office.  But critics say the only cases that have come to trial involve opposition figures.

The Obama administration has warned Ukraine about “selective justice.”

In the trial, Ms. Tymoshenko earned the judge’s enmity by calling him “a monster” and the trial a “farce.”

Over the weekend, she had to share her cell with an inmate who smoked, and she had to comply with prison regulations and let her hair down.

But by Monday morning, her braids were back in place, and she was unbowed.  When the judge walked in, she said, "I will not stand in front of you because it would be kneeling in front of the mafia.  You are not breaking me but Ukraine's young democracy."

On Friday, her arrest stemmed from mocking a witness, current Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, for speaking in Russian, rather than Ukrainian.

Ms. Tymoshenko is charged with abuse of power in connection with a 2009 deal that ended Russia’s midwinter gas cutoff to Ukraine.  Then-prime minister Tymoshenko flew to Moscow and hammered out a deal with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  The Yanukovych government says she broke the law by not consulting her government when signing the deal, an accord which cost Ukraine an extra $190 million.

Analysts say the Kremlin criticizes the trial, partly because Prime Minister Putin’s signature is on the gas deal and partly because Russia does not want to lower gas prices for Ukraine.

On Thursday, President Yanukovych is to break his Crimea vacation and fly across the Black Sea to meet in Sochi with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.  The Kremlin is inviting Ukraine to join Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in a new customs union, an economic grouping that some call "Soviet Union lite."

The meeting will be watched closely by defenders of democracy and by advocates of a Ukrainian free trade pact with the European Union.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Press Freedom

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs