Profile: Yulia Tymoshenko

KIEV, Ukraine -- The glamorous, fiery orator who helped lead Ukraine's revolt against a corrupt election in 2004, Yulia Tymoshenko has seen her once meteoric career lurch violently and then nosedive.

Yulia Tymoshenko

After seeing her Orange Revolution disintegrate in her own hands, she now faces a possible jail sentence, for allegedly selling her country out to Russia.

She says charges of abuse of power, over a gas deal she signed with Russia when she was prime minister, are a tissue of lies, which she blames on her old foe, the man she helped oust in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych.

It is a remarkable turnaround since those days, when she and her ally Viktor Yushchenko packed the streets of Ukraine in protest at a rigged election that went in favour of the pro-Russian Mr Yanukovych.

The Supreme Court ruled in their favour, and the Orange alliance took power on a firmly pro-Western, anti-Russian platform.

Bitter rivalry

But no sooner had they taken power in 2005, with Mrs Tymoshenko as prime minister and Mr Yushchenko as president, than their relationship turned bitter.

He sacked her later that year as she feuded with his party colleagues.

She was reappointed in September 2007 as the parties resurrected their alliance, but the constant political squabbling between the president and the prime minister continued.

Political paralysis prevented any effective handling of the global economic crisis, which hit Ukraine hard.

Voters seemed to lay much of the blame at Mr Yushchenko's door, and by the time of the 2010 presidential election, the Orange Revolution was consigned to history. Mr Yushchenko won less than 6% of the vote in the first round, coming fifth.

Mrs Tymoshenko, meanwhile, remained a front-runner, going through to the second round against Viktor Yanukovych.

She also patched up her differences with Russia.

At a meeting on the thorny subject of the gas trade between Russia and Ukraine, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Mrs Tymoshenko was a woman with whom he could do business.

It was as close as anyone was going to get to his endorsement ahead of the elections.

But much of her previous popularity had evaporated in the intervening five years, and she was beaten.

Despite her protests that Mr Yanukovych's victory was rigged - again - this time international monitors gave the vote a clean bill of health.

She was then ousted by MPs from the post of prime minister, despite her best attempts to cling on.

Forced to go into opposition, she promised to make life for President Yanukovych as difficult as possible, declaring: "We will protect Ukraine from this new calamity that has befallen her."

But many analysts argue that the calamity came earlier, as Mrs Tymoshenko and her two main rivals bickered while the country's economy went into freefall.

Successful tycoon

Her supporters see Mrs Tymoshenko as a glamorous revolutionary challenging a corrupt, macho political elite.

Her stinging attacks on the oligarchs who prospered under the pre-Orange-Revolution administration of Leonid Kuchma boosted her popularity among many Ukrainians frustrated by years of economic stagnation and corruption.

But critics point out that she herself made a fortune in the energy sector in the 1990s.

She was born in 1960 in the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, in the mainly Russian-speaking east, which is now a stronghold of Mr Yanukovych.

She trained as an engineer and economist in the east and, when the Soviet Union broke up, she sought to take advantage of the business opportunities that emerged.

In the mid-1990s she formed United Energy Systems of Ukraine, which helped supply gas to Ukraine's huge industrial base.

By some estimates, she became one of the richest people in Ukraine.

Like many tycoons in Ukraine, she sought to become involved in politics, and became part of Mr Yushchenko's government in 1999-2001, pushing through energy sector reforms.

But she fell out with then-President Leonid Kuchma, and after being held in prison for a month on corruption charges, she made it her goal to unseat him, launching a campaign that reached its climax in the Orange Revolution.

In hindsight, that may have been the apex of her political career.

Source: BBC News