Yushchenko Visits Hostile Donetsk

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told a packed auditorium in the hostile eastern city of Donetsk that he was ready to bury the past and work to improve life throughout Ukraine.

"I want to say that old disappointments and old insults don't exist for me," Yushchenko said in remarks aired live on Ukraina TRK television, owned by the Donetsk-based tycoon Rinat Akhmetov.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (L), is greeted by Director of the Zasyadko coal mine Yefim Zvyagilsky in Donetsk

Yushchenko was making a one-day visit to Donetsk, a Russian-speaking region that overwhelmingly supported his rival in last year's bitter election.

Nearly 94 percent of Donetsk voters supported their native son, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who advocated closer ties with Moscow.

Many Donetsk residents feared that Yushchenko was a pro-American nationalist who would sever ties with Russia, ban Russian-language schools and close down the mines and factories that are the lifeblood of this region. Yushchenko has said they were misled by election propaganda against him.

About 3,000 demonstrators - primarily from the Communist Party and the party Derzhava - gathered outside the regional headquarters July 15 to protest Yushchenko's visit, waving signs that read "Get out!" and "No to a pro-American regime," according to Ukrainian media reports. On the eve of Yushchenko's visit, cars drove through the streets waving banners reading, "Ukraine without Yushchenko!"

"I will forgive," Yushchenko said, adding, however, that he would keep coming to Donetsk as long as it took to insist that everyone lives by the law.

"I want to make people proud, so that they can live in a unique country and can live prosperously," Yushchenko said. "Together we can accomplish a lot of useful work."

Earlier, Yushchenko laid flowers at a chapel in memory of people who have died on the job. The Donetsk region is the center for Ukrainian coal mines, considered among the most dangerous in the world.

Yushchenko made his first postelection visit to Donetsk in February - a lightning-speed trip where he was met by crowds of hostile protesters, who threw snowballs at him.

Source: AP