Crowning Glory Awaits The Orange Heir Apparent

LONDON, United Kingdom -- There are two things people really want to ask Yuliya Tymoshenko, the Orange Revolution’s as yet unimmolated Joan of Arc.

The appearance of Yuliya Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, has undergone a revolution of its own.

The first is whether the former Ukrainian Prime Minister, sacked by her former ally President Yushchenko last September, is again within grasp of the premiership. The second is: what’s with that hairdo? In reverse order then . . .

During the Ukrainian revolution of November 2004, in which a corrupt pro-Russian President was finally forced to concede that his protégé had not won the rigged election to replace him, Mrs Tymoshenko’s hair, once a practical dark mop, evolved into a work of art, a crowning glory of Princess-Leia braiding in gold, inspired, surely, by Slavic iconography.

“It means nothing. It is just a hairstyle,” she protests. But it’s changed! “There is nothing special in that,” she says through her translator. “Women do change their hair colour.” I take it she travels with a professional hairdresser? “No! I do it myself. It only takes me seven minutes. If I employed a professional I would need to leave an extra hour in the mornings.”

In her work, does being glamorous help? “Oh, nothing helps!” she says. “I read my press cuttings every day and it is all negative material: all politicians are monsters!” We meet at the Savoy in London. In her feathery tunic, designed by her favourite Ukrainian dressmaker, she resembles a sugar plum fairy who has become detached from her dance troupe.

She is 45 and could pass for 25, although her heavy make-up is unwisely tinted the colour of the Orange Revolution she came to personify. In London for just 13 hours, she has been schmoozing investment bankers and William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, who, given his recent kind words about the Lib Dems, may have sought her advice on coalition politics. In the Ukraine, these are nothing if not complicated.

In parliamentary elections in March her party, modestly named after herself, came second — ahead of Mr Yushchenko’s, but ten points behind that led by Viktor Yanukovych, the brief winner of the fixed 2004 presidential contest.

Mr Yanukovych, a twice-convicted robber, may (or may not) have been involved in the poisoning that caused the prince-to-toad disfiguration of Victor Yushchenko’s face during the campaign, yet discussions between Mrs Tymoshenko and the President who fired her when the shine wore off her economic strategy have become so fractious that some fear the emergence of an unholy Yushchenko-Yanukovych alliance.

But, yes, Mrs Tymoshenko believes that she will emerge as prime minister. “What I know for sure is that there will be an Orange coalition. I know we will have the government in place by the end of June and I’m sure that the political team which I lead will take the leading position.”

And she will demand to be prime minister? “I don’t think we need to demand anything because the Ukrainian voters demonstrated that they were putting their hopes in our political force and they connected the future with my name.”

Could she work with the man who fired her? “From my last meeting with Mr President I got the idea that he and I realised what the mistakes we made were and we are determined not to make any more mistakes that might break up our alliance.”

So she has overcome her anger at being dismissed? “I didn’t have any anger or offence because I don’t think these are the feelings a responsible politician should have. The only thing I regretted is that the colossal opportunities the Orange Revolution provided were not actually utilised.”

Yet she insists the revolution has not failed. “What I think the world and the Ukrainians underestimated was the strength of the reactionary groups — the resistance of the system. There was too much optimism.”

But she, glamorous on the barricades, inspired that optimism! “I’m very glad that people fell in love with my idealism. It is much worse when people fall in love with cynicism.”

As thousands of Orange-branded supporters took to the streets, it was Mrs Tymoshenko who dared to enter the presidential building to talk sense into President Kuchma. Some wondered if she would make it out. “We are human beings, so we were afraid, but we had this goal in front of us and we managed to suppress the fear. Plus there was this feeling that no one else could do it apart from me.”

Was she given courage by having survived six weeks’ imprisonment by the Kuchma regime in 2001? “At least that memory didn’t scare me and didn’t stop me. Even in prison I had no feeling of fatality or tragedy. I was pretty sure this regime would be dismantled.”

I read that she has separated from her husband of 27 years. Does she blame politics? “I too have heard terrible things about myself but nobody separated me from my husband! There is an old Ukrainian saying like Mark Twain’s: the rumours of my death are much exaggerated.”

Aleksandr “hates politics” but gives her tremendous support, she says. Their dream of a world cruise is on hold, even though after her years heading an energy company she is as rich as any of the oligarchs she now pledges to take on.

She has enjoyed equal encouragement from her mother, who brought her up in poverty single-handedly, and her daughter Evgenia, who recently married an English rock musician, Sean Carr.

Although educated in Britain, Evgenia, 25, has chosen to return to the Ukraine and Carr’s band, the Death Valley Screamers, toured the country during the election. Supporting his mother-in-law? “Supporting democracy,” she says. Will she stand for president in 2009? “If the coalition works I will support Mr Yushenko in 2009’s presidential elections.

“People say sometimes, ‘He might let you down’. But for me, most important is the future of the Ukraine.”

It is a politician’s answer: a threat disguised as a promise. As we leave, our photographer marvels at what a pretty picture this politician takes.

“In America,” her political adviser sighs knowingly, “I could make her president.”

Source: Times Online