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"I'm Still Alive" - An Exclusive Interview With Yulia Tymoshenko

In a state hospital after growing ill in jail, the Ukranian opposition leader denounces the "cannibalistic" tactics of those who have condemned her -- and vows to fight on.

Yulia Tymoshenko
Yulia Tymoshenko
Alexis Rosenzweig

KIEV - Yulia Tymoshenko, the icon of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution who served twice as Prime Minister, is currently under close supervision at a Kiev hospital where she is receiving medical treatement.

She was taken to hospital after international outcry managed to pressure President Viktor Yanukovych into transferring her from the jail she was rotting in – deprived of any kind of medical treatment.

Tymoshenko denies the charges of abuse of power for which she was condemned to a seven-year sentence, as well as new allegations relating to the murder of businessman and lawmaker Yevhen Shcherban. In spite of the constant surveillance to which she is subjected, and unable to receive visitors, Tymoshenko managed to respond to questions posed by Le Temps.

LE TEMPS: How do you explain why your government is harassing you?
YULIA TYMOSHENKO: The relentless, carefully thought-out persecution that my friends in the opposition and I are currently facing is only a small part of the overall strategy pursued by the leaders of the ruling party. It proves that my voice matters: by preventing me from taking part in political life, especially during the last legislative elections in October 2012, the regime is trying to protect itself from any kind of political opposition. The president and his henchmen are perfectly aware that I have what it takes to get the country back in shape and federate those willing to oppose the rise of a dictatorship in Ukraine.

We – those who love freedom – are being censored because we are fighting the regime’s cannibalistic appetite: corrupting and manipulating the law, lying and cheating brazenly.

But I myself am not the main problem, and neither are my fellow All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" party members. The real problem is that the Ukraine, like other post-Soviet states, is slowly relapsing into dictatorship. I believe this situation requires a strong reaction from democratic countries around the world. Fighting relentlessly against this corruption could mark the beginning of the end for the neo-dictators flourishing in our young and fragile democracies.

During the last legislative elections in 2012, your party won 25.5% of the vote – 105 out of 450 seats in parliament. Was it a success, considering how critical you were of the way the election was organized?
Despite massive fraud, this was a very positive result in a country where democratic institutions are threatened. Even if comparisons prove nothing, a quick look at what is happening in our neighboring countries gives us hope on our situation. In Belarus, the opposition has been completely removed from the elections. In Russia, the opposition can only play a minor part. But here in the Ukraine, 70% of the electorate voted against the regime – and bear in mind that these are the official numbers, not taking into account the fraud organized by the authorities!

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Photo: European People's Party

It has been eight years since the beginning of the Orange Revolution. What conclusions can you draw?
The Orange Revolution was a crucial moment in the history of independent Ukraine. It defined the Ukraine as a young, post-Soviet country whose inhabitants share the same European values, identity and culture. I am certain that historians will study the Orange Revolution the same way they study Hungarian Uprising of 1956, the Prague Spring or the Solidarity movement in Poland. The path is still long, but the Orange Revolution set my fellow citizens and I in the right direction – that of Europe. This is what matters the most. We realize how important it is to stay true to the goals of the Orange Revolution, and to our ideals. Democratic powers must now unite against the dangers of a dictatorship according to the same principles that led to the Orange Revolution. We are ready – and as for me, I will not rest until that goal is achieved.

Will you be running for president in 2015?
On Dec. 7, 2012, united leaders of the opposition announced that they would support me as their only candidate for the next presidential election. It is a great honor, and a great responsibility. Of course, there are still many obstacles. But I’ve always resisted those who tried to distract me from my goals and dreams for the future of Ukraine. My intentions are crystal clear. The proof is that I’ve never been accused of "corruption" or "personal enrichment."

I was condemned for doing everything in my power – in the government, in the opposition and in prison – so that the population did not feel let down by its leaders, so that Ukraine could become a prosperous, democratic, united and proud country. I hope the European Court of Human Rights, which is set to rule on the legality of my trial, will allow me to be judged not by magistrates under the thumb of a corrupt government, but by the people – who will judge me for my political actions, in free and fair elections. Thanks to international pressure, the support of the Ukrainian diaspora and active democratic forces in our country, the powers in place have failed to destroy me politically. I’m still alive!

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