Yushchenko Thanks Chicago Ukrainians

CHICAGO, IL -- The cheering crowd was dressed in orange Monday night, but it wasn't for the Illini basketball team seeking a national championship.

It was for newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who came here to thank local Ukrainians for their support in helping him win office.

"I am happy to have the Chicago community giving most of their votes to me," he told a crowd that packed the grand ballroom of the Palmer House Hilton during a speech sponsored by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

"I think the count was 99.6 percent of the votes," he said of the Chicago area Ukrainians who voted for him. "The turnout was like it used to be when we had the communists, although with the communists sometimes the turnout was 102 percent," he joked.

To investigate corruption

The crowd shouted "Yushchenko, Yushchenko," and in Ukrainian chanted the slogan of the Ukraine's Orange Revolution: "Together we are many and will not be defeated."

"I am particularly happy to have seen the Ukrainian nation having arisen from its knees," Yushchenko told the crowd. "We are off our knees because you were by us."

Earlier Monday Yushchenko met with President Bush in Washington, saying, "Our ideals are simple and eternal. We want democracy and freedom."

He said ending corruption and easing poverty remain top priorities, and he asserted that he was committed to nourishing the rule of law and human rights in his country.

Yushchenko has promised a thorough investigation of corruption and misdeeds that allegedly flourished during his predecessor's 10 years as president.

Bush said he understood Yushchenko's decision to pull Ukraine's 1,650 troops out of Iraq.

"The president made clear to me in my first conversation with him that he campaigned on the idea of bringing some troops out; he's fulfilling a campaign pledge. I fully understand that," Bush said.

"But he also said he's going to cooperate with the coalition in terms of further withdrawals. And I appreciate that."

Trade restrictions remain

Bush also said he would to support Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization by the end of this year and to seek to persuade Congress to lift remaining trade restrictions on Ukraine that are a vestige of the Cold War.

Yushchenko, 51, was sworn in as president of Ukraine Jan. 23 after a fraudulent run-off vote was annulled by the country's supreme court in December.

Yushchenko was an accountant appointed in 1993 to head the country's central bank. His performance there led to his appointment as premier in 1999. When President Leonid Kuchma dismissed him after two years, he joined the opposition where his popularity grew.

Wife is from Chicago

During the campaign, Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, disfiguring his once handsome face with cloracne and causing him so much discomfort he needed injections for pain directly into his spine on the campaign trail. He attributes the poisoning to a dinner he had at the home of the No. 2 official of Ukraine's secret service. Yushchenko complained to him at the dinner about government agents trailing him and his campaigners.

Ukrainians took to the streets after the government proclaimed that Yushchenko had lost the Nov. 21 election last year. After the court threw out the results of that election and ordered a new one in December, Yushchenko narrowly won.

He has been married since 1998 to Kateryna Chumachenko, 43, a Chicago-born former official of the Reagan administration who holds an MBA from the University of Chicago.