Trial puts Yulia Tymoshenko back in the spotlight

Ukraine's Orange Revolution fizzled out, but now it is getting a second airing – in a Kiev courtroom. Oliver Poole reports

As the land of Nikolai Gogol and the adopted home of Anton Chekhov, Ukraine has long been enthusiastic about its playwrights. But the theatre now gripping the country has not unfolded on the stage but in a courthouse in the capital, Kiev.

The setting is Pechersk District Court where Yulia Tymoshenko, the country's former prime minister and one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, is being prosecuted for allegedly abusing her power of office.

The drama, which resumes this morning, finished its first act on Friday when – after days of wrangling and increasingly chaotic courtroom scenes – the 50-year-old opposition leader finally heard the charges against her. She pleaded not guilty and issued an angry rebuke to the courtroom: "This criminal case was made up on the President's order," she cried, her trademark blonde braid wrapped around her head. "The criminal charge is something to be ashamed of."

President Viktor Yanukovych suffered a bitter blow during the Orange Revolution, which saw his 2004 election victory declared fraudulent and annulled by the Supreme Court amid huge street protests. But in a remarkable comeback, Mr Yanukovych beat Ms Tymoshenko in elections in February 2010, and Ms Tymoshenko and her lawyers now claim that the trial is payback, and part of a broader crackdown on opposition politicians ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.

Supporters have filled the courtroom shouting "Shame! Shame!". Ms Tymoshenko herself was ordered to leave after refusing to stand to address the bench and for calling the judge a "monster". The trial continued without her or her lawyers present to witness proceedings.

The government insists the case is part of a general crackdown on corruption. But the charges against her are unusual as, rather than alleging impropriety for personal gain, they centre on a gas deal with the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2009 which reportedly resulted in the Ukraine losing £118m. It is claimed that Ms Tymoshenko forced the then head of Ukraine's state-owned gas company, Naftogaz, to sign the agreement with Russia's Gazprom without consulting her government. Ms Tymoshenko questions why matters of policy have become a criminal case and points out that the deal was welcomed at the time by the European Union.

"We in the Ukraine had experience of living in the Soviet Union when there were no liberties at all," she told The Independent. "That is why I must now fight for a county built on values: rule of law, freedom of speech, justice."

The trial has seen both the court and the prosecutors accused of a host of procedural violations, provoking stern warnings from the European Commission and the US State Department that they are now monitoring proceedings carefully.

Ms Tymoshenko and her advisers were given less than a week to read the 4,500-page documents that outlined the prosecution case and her application for a trial by jury was refused. Her original lawyer had to resign after suffering heart problems due to the stress of handling the case.

Moreover, her legal team highlights how the case is not an isolated instance but, they argue, part of a co-ordinated assault on the opposition movement ahead of next year's parliamentary elections. Eight members of the former government are under arrest and three others banned from leaving the country. The former economic minister gained asylum in the Czech Republic after being harassed by the Ukrainian authorities.

Yuri Lutsenko, the charismatic former interior minister, was arrested by armed security men shortly before New Year as he stepped out of his family apartment to walk his dog.

His family are candid about the physical effect of his time incarcerated in Kiev's notorious Lukyanivska prison awaiting trial – an impact accentuated by a six-week hunger strike he undertook to try to get his case to court.

His brother Sergei Lutsenko said: "When I see Yuri he does not now look like the same man. His face is gaunt and we worry about his health all the time. The conditions are very bad. His cell is damp and mouldy."

As with Ms Tymoshenko, the charges largely focus on issues of political policy, not personal propriety. Key to them are the claims, which Mr Lutsenko denies, that he hired a driver who was two years over the pension age and that he permitted the police an unlawful day off.

When in office, he was involved in bringing a case against Boris Kolesnikov – a close ally of Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov – as well as Evgenii Kushnaryov, the former governor of Kharkov, and other high-ranking members of Mr Yanukovych's circle. His brother believes this is why he has now been targeted. "The only opposition President Yanukovych wants is one in his image," he said. "One he can tell what to say and what not to say."

But if the objective of the recent crackdown was to destroy Mr Yanukovych's political opponents, its effect appears to have been just the opposite. Ukrainians were damning about the failure of the Orange Revolution's leaders to deliver on their promises. Ms Tymoshenko's governments were mired in allegations of political infighting and inappropriate behaviour, including by Mr Lutsenko, who allegedly attacked security guards while drunk at Frankfurt airport. After losing to Mr Yanukovych, Ms Tymoshenko could not even unify the opposition around her.

But now she is again able to portray herself as a victim of oppression and is a national figurehead once more, her face staring from myriad magazine covers.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered outside the court to scream her name, and her Twitter account jumped to 23,500 followers after she started tweeting live from the court.

Requests to interview President Yanukovych or a member of his office had received no response by the time The Independent went to press, but he made clear, when interviewed in Strasbourg recently, that the performance surrounding the Tymoshenko trial would be ended "quickly". Then, he added, people would be able to see "who is right and who is wrong and we can make conclusions".

If Ms Tymoshenko is found guilty, she faces up to 10 years in jail and would be disqualified from taking part in parliamentary elections next year and a presidential poll in 2015. If not, the conclusion must be that Mr Yanukovych will face a far more dangerous political opponent than if the drama now unfolding at Pechersk District Court had never taken place.

Ukraine's turmoil

* 23 November, 2004: Viktor Yanukovych, right, the prime minister, is declared winner of the presidential election. However, observers report widespread vote rigging and the result is also tainted by the poisoning of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.



* 3 December, 2004: The victory is annulled by the Supreme Court after huge protests on the streets of Kiev – dubbed the 'Orange Revolution'. The re-run was won by Viktor Yushchenko.



* 4 February, 2005: Yulia Tymoshenko, nominated by President Yushchenko, is approved as Prime Minister. She is later sacked after complaints about government corruption, before being reappointed in 2007.



* 14 February, 2010: Mr Yanukovych declared President after staging a remarkable comeback, beating Ms Tymoshenko by 3.45 percentage points. Observers said there were no major concerns with the vote but Ms Tymoshenko refused to accept the result.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
people
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

EBD Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Science Teacher Greater Manchester

Humanities Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities teacher required for ...

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ENGLISH TEACHER REQUIRED - Humbe...

Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are looking for a Qualified C...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits