Ukraine's U.S.-Born First Lady Shares Husband's Triumph

WASHINGTON, DC -- Wearing a suit adorned with a bright orange brooch, the color of the Ukrainian revolution, first lady Kateryna Chumachenko Yushchenko said Wednesday the protests that erupted in Kiev last fall could have turned into a bloodbath.

Thousands of orange-clad demonstrators had filled Independence Square in the capital and cut off access to the parliament building, protesting a round of presidential voting marred by allegations of fraud. But soldiers standing guard refused to move against them or let police pass through, the first lady said, reliving the intense moments that eventually led to the election of her husband, Viktor Yushchenko.


Kateryna Chumachenko Yushchenko

"The Orange Revolution . . . changed not only the history of my country, but, I believe, the history of mankind as well," she said.

Here at the climax of a three-day U.S. victory tour with her husband, Yushchenko told 150 guests at a luncheon in Washington that she was committed to humanitarian work and to the social transformation of Ukraine. The event was organized by Melanne Verveer, chairman of the board of the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a group that promotes women in leadership roles.

The first lady asked her American audience for cooperation on several projects, including efforts to combat cancer and HIV/AIDS and an initiative to stop sexual trafficking involving Ukrainian women and children. Traveling with the first lady was VitalyKlitchko, a world boxing champion who has participated in anti-HIV campaigns and worked to improve the care of homeless children and orphans in Ukraine.

Yushchenko, 43, was born in the United States to Ukrainian emigres who had been forced to serve as slave laborers in Germany during World War II. After a childhood in Chicago, she graduated from Georgetown University and received an MBA from the University of Chicago.

In 1993, while working in Kiev as an adviser to the USAID-funded Bank Training Program, she accompanied a group of Ukrainian bankers on a visit to the United States. Viktor Yushchenko, then the head of Ukraine's national bank, was among the visitors. An initially prickly encounter blossomed into a romance, and they married in 1998.

In Washington this week, the Yushchenkos visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and lit two candles in the Hall of Remembrance. One candle was in memory of those killed at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland. Museum officials said that Viktor Yushchenko told them three years ago that his father had been an Auschwitz survivor.

The Yushchenkos lit a second candle in memory of the Ukrainians executed at Babi Yar, the ravine near Kiev where the Nazis slaughtered 100,000 civilians, including more than 30,000 Jews, according to Arthur Berger, a museum official.

In presenting the 2005 Profile in Courage award to the Ukrainian president Tuesday, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) spoke of Yushchenko's "unparalleled courage."

"Nothing -- not even a vicious attempt to poison him -- could break his spirit and prevent him from speaking out against corruption and for a democracy grounded firmly in the rule of law," Kennedy said, referring to the apparently deliberate dioxin poisoning of Yushchenko last year.

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