Yulia Tymoshenko: Ukraine's 'Iron Lady'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's ex-prime minister, who went on trial Friday, has combined feminine charisma with a hard-edged pragmatism in over a decade in the rough world of Ukrainian politics.

Yulia Tymoshenko at the beginning her court hearing.

Far from being perturbed by a trial for abuse of power that could see her jailed for several years, Tymoshenko entered the courtroom Friday in one of her trademark pastel suits with her golden hair braid, as ever, intricately knotted on her head.

But the woman known in Ukraine as the "Iron Lady" after her heroine Margaret Thatcher or sometimes as just "Vona" ("She") has had to draw on all her reserves of political steel after a traumatic one-and-a-half years.

After helping lead the Orange Revolution and serving as prime minister, in early 2010 she set her sights on the top job of president but lost out in a bitterly personal contest to her arch-rival Viktor Yanukovych.

She stayed uncharacteristically silent for days after losing in the final round in February 2010, apparently already sensing that the consequences of her defeat would be more than just political.

Within months of losing the elections, prosecutors opened a criminal probe against her and she now faces charges on three separate counts of abuse of power.

Tymoshenko was forced to sign a pledge not to leave Kiev during the investigation and, although she has not been jailed, she has also witnessed the imprisonment of several former top allies in similar probes.

These included her former interior minister Yury Lutsenko, who staged a month-long hunger strike to protest his imprisonment but remains in detention.

"All authoritarian regimes are built on fear. It is very important to be able to cope with fear," Tymoshenko, who spent several weeks in prison half a decade ago, said earlier this year.

"I am not a monster without emotion. I have fear like any other person. But you can master it."

Tymoshenko, 50, has traditionally been seen as pro-Western, compared with Yanukovych's more pro-Russian tilt.

But she has repeatedly shown a capacity to shed her political skin and latterly while in power sought to position herself as being on good terms with Moscow, especially with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Born in the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine, Tymoshenko won prominence and allegedly huge wealth in the chaotic 1990s as head of United Energy Systems of Ukraine, which imported Russian gas.

One of her mentors from that era was former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who helped her build up the business and is now jailed in the United States for embezzlement and money laundering.

Tymoshenko became a deputy prime minister under the presidency of Leonid Kuchma in 1999 but was fired in 2001 after falling out with him.

In a dramatic sequence of events, she was then briefly imprisoned on charges of forgery and gas smuggling.

The charges, which she says were politically motivated, were quashed in 2005 in mysterious circumstances.

Her businessman husband Olexander, whom she married as a teenager, was implicated in the same scandal and spent a year in jail and then two more years hiding from the authorities.

Tymoshenko was the chief ally of former President Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 Orange Revolution that swept the old pro-Kuchma order from power, and she served twice as prime minister under Yushchenko's presidency.

But the pair's relationship descended into sometimes comical bickering as the two former Orange heroes developed an implacable enmity.

The Tymoshenkos' daughter Yevgenia, meanwhile, sparked tabloid interest in 2005 with her marriage to Sean Carr, a British hard rock musician.

Source: The Telegraph