In Ukraine, Death of the Orange Revolution

In Ukraine, Death of the Orange Revolution

Yegor Lupan calls himself the "most honest presidential candidate" in Ukraine. In his online campaign videos, he admits that he'll rig the results in order to win, and once in power, he plans to embezzle state funds. Ukrainians also shouldn't expect a rise in pensions under his leadership. "When you see my villas, you'll understand why," he says.

Lupan, the invention of a Ukrainian comedian, has captured the mood of the country on the eve of Sunday's presidential election, the first since the Orange Revolution swept pro-Western reformer Viktor Yushchenko into power five years ago, bringing hopes that the former Soviet republic would be set firmly on a course toward integration with the rest of Europe. Since then, however, Yushchenko and his allies have failed to make good on their promises of democratic reforms or improving the quality of life in the country, leaving Ukrainians deeply disillusioned with the country's politicians.

Particularly Yushchenko. Once seen as the Barack Obama of his day, with approval ratings topping 70% in February 2005, the sitting President is now badly trailing the frontrunners in the race — Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his Orange Revolution ally turned bitter rival, and Viktor Yanukovych, whom he defeated in the last election. Yushchenko is not expected to make it to the second-round runoff on Feb. 7.

But no matter who's elected, voters have little reason to believe the election will bring about any real change. Across the country, Ukrainians are brimming with anger at the failure of their leaders to tackle the country's chronic corruption or bring about much-needed economic or judicial reforms. "We should line them all up against a wall," says Andriy, a taxi driver in the eastern town of Dnipropetrovsk who only gave his first name. "They promise everything, but give us nothing." Judging by the current climate, many Ukrainians may not be voting for a particular candidate so much as voting against another. One candidate hoping to tap into this widespread dissatisfaction recently changed his name to Vasyl Protyvsikh, or Vasyl "Against All."

It was a very different story in the winter of 2004 when thousands of Ukrainians gathered on Independence Square in the center of Kiev to protest the disputed presidential election that had been won by Yanukovych in November of that year. The demonstrations, which became known as the Orange Revolution after Yushchenko's campaign color, lasted for several weeks and eventually led to the Supreme Court to call for the vote to be repeated because of widespread fraud. Yushchenko, whose face had been disfigured during the campaign by an alleged poisoning, won the runoff, giving many Ukrainians the sense that their country was finally heading in the right direction.

Those hopes, however, soon crashed against the sobering reality of Ukrainian politics. The fiery Tymoshenko became Yushchenko's Prime Minister, but personal and political conflicts between the two have hamstrung their attempts to govern. Yushchenko's inner circle, meanwhile, has been beset by allegations of corruption, and he's failed to fulfill his promises to put "bandits in jail" and make the law "the same for all."

Yanukovych, whose lead in the polls speaks loudly of the Orange leaders' failures, pins the blame on mismanagement by his opponents. "Precisely while the Orange government has been running the country, Ukraine gained one of the leading places in the world in terms of corruption," he told TIME in a recent interview. "Since 2005, they have been accusing each other and members of their teams of corruption, inability to manage the state properly, and all other mortal sins. Not only are the Ukrainian people fed up with this, but [so too are] a lot of Ukraine's partners in the world." This may be true, but Yanukovych himself managed few successes in the battle against corruption when he briefly replaced Tymoshenko as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007. (See the top 10 news stories of 2009.)

Tymoshenko, meanwhile, has built her campaign around promises of a sharp crackdown on embezzling bureaucrats and the oligarchs who have used their political influence to circumvent the law and take control of much of the country's economy. She blames Yushchenko's "weakness" for the rampant lawlessness in the country. "He didn't stand the test of power," she told TIME in an interview in December. Tymoshenko says she will display no such timidity. At a campaign stop in southern Ukraine this month, she told supporters, "Sometimes I'm envious of China, where they have just what's needed for punishing corruption — they cut off hands and execute people."

Her aggressive rhetoric, coupled with recent surveys showing that Ukrainians want a strong leader, has raised concerns of a possible return to more authoritarian rule. "She's a one-woman show. But civil society won't let that happen," says Oleh Rybachuk, a former chief of staff to Yushchenko and deputy prime minister in Tymoshenko's government. Ukrainians may want a strong leader, he says, but they won't allow a politician to curtail their freedoms. "Ukraine is not Russia," he adds. (See the world's most influential people in the 2009 TIME 100.)

Russia may have finally accepted that fact, but it still wants a say in the affairs of a nation it considers part of its sphere of influence. After unsuccessfully backing Yanukovych in the 2004 election, the Kremlin heaped scorn on Yushchenko for his attempts to build a national identity by promoting the Ukrainian language and lauding national heroes who fought against Russia, as well as for his support of Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia. Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have promised to repair relations with Moscow, but that doesn't mean they want to return to the Kremlin's fold. Tymoshenko pledged Thursday to steer Ukraine into the European Union within five years, and Yanukovych has recast himself as a moderate who also supports closer ties with the E.U.

In the end, the difference between the two may be as much about style as it is substance, with both widely seen as opportunists whose backers are eager to gain power. But Ukrainians, despite their disillusionment with the people running the country, still want to have a say in their country's future. "Ukrainians are ready to be mobilized," says Dmytro Potekhin, a civil society activist. "There's just no one to mobilize them."

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Pre-election posters of presidential candidates Viktor Yanukovich (R) and Viktor Yushchenko in central Kiev.

Yegor Lupan calls himself the "most honest presidential candidate" in Ukraine. In his online campaign videos, he admits that he'll rig the results in order to win, and once in power, he plans to embezzle state funds. Ukrainians also shouldn't expect a rise in pensions under his leadership. "When you see my villas, you'll understand why," he says.

Lupan, the invention of a Ukrainian comedian, has captured the mood of the country on the eve of Sunday's presidential election, the first since the Orange Revolution swept pro-Western reformer Viktor Yushchenko into power five years ago, bringing hopes that the former Soviet republic would be set firmly on a course toward integration with the rest of Europe. Since then, however, Yushchenko and his allies have failed to make good on their promises of democratic reforms or improving the quality of life in the country, leaving Ukrainians deeply disillusioned with the country's politicians. (See the top 10 contested elections.)

Particularly Yushchenko. Once seen as the Barack Obama of his day, with approval ratings topping 70% in February 2005, the sitting President is now badly trailing the frontrunners in the race — Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his Orange Revolution ally turned bitter rival, and Viktor Yanukovych, whom he defeated in the last election. Yushchenko is not expected to make it to the second-round runoff on Feb. 7.

But no matter who's elected, voters have little reason to believe the election will bring about any real change. Across the country, Ukrainians are brimming with anger at the failure of their leaders to tackle the country's chronic corruption or bring about much-needed economic or judicial reforms. "We should line them all up against a wall," says Andriy, a taxi driver in the eastern town of Dnipropetrovsk who only gave his first name. "They promise everything, but give us nothing." Judging by the current climate, many Ukrainians may not be voting for a particular candidate so much as voting against another. One candidate hoping to tap into this widespread dissatisfaction recently changed his name to Vasyl Protyvsikh, or Vasyl "Against All."

It was a very different story in the winter of 2004 when thousands of Ukrainians gathered on Independence Square in the center of Kiev to protest the disputed presidential election that had been won by Yanukovych in November of that year. The demonstrations, which became known as the Orange Revolution after Yushchenko's campaign color, lasted for several weeks and eventually led to the Supreme Court to call for the vote to be repeated because of widespread fraud. Yushchenko, whose face had been disfigured during the campaign by an alleged poisoning, won the runoff, giving many Ukrainians the sense that their country was finally heading in the right direction. (Read more about Ukraine.)

Those hopes, however, soon crashed against the sobering reality of Ukrainian politics. The fiery Tymoshenko became Yushchenko's Prime Minister, but personal and political conflicts between the two have hamstrung their attempts to govern. Yushchenko's inner circle, meanwhile, has been beset by allegations of corruption, and he's failed to fulfill his promises to put "bandits in jail" and make the law "the same for all."

Yanukovych, whose lead in the polls speaks loudly of the Orange leaders' failures, pins the blame on mismanagement by his opponents. "Precisely while the Orange government has been running the country, Ukraine gained one of the leading places in the world in terms of corruption," he told TIME in a recent interview. "Since 2005, they have been accusing each other and members of their teams of corruption, inability to manage the state properly, and all other mortal sins. Not only are the Ukrainian people fed up with this, but [so too are] a lot of Ukraine's partners in the world." This may be true, but Yanukovych himself managed few successes in the battle against corruption when he briefly replaced Tymoshenko as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007. (See the top 10 news stories of 2009.)

Tymoshenko, meanwhile, has built her campaign around promises of a sharp crackdown on embezzling bureaucrats and the oligarchs who have used their political influence to circumvent the law and take control of much of the country's economy. She blames Yushchenko's "weakness" for the rampant lawlessness in the country. "He didn't stand the test of power," she told TIME in an interview in December. Tymoshenko says she will display no such timidity. At a campaign stop in southern Ukraine this month, she told supporters, "Sometimes I'm envious of China, where they have just what's needed for punishing corruption — they cut off hands and execute people."

Her aggressive rhetoric, coupled with recent surveys showing that Ukrainians want a strong leader, has raised concerns of a possible return to more authoritarian rule. "She's a one-woman show. But civil society won't let that happen," says Oleh Rybachuk, a former chief of staff to Yushchenko and deputy prime minister in Tymoshenko's government. Ukrainians may want a strong leader, he says, but they won't allow a politician to curtail their freedoms. "Ukraine is not Russia," he adds. (See the world's most influential people in the 2009 TIME 100.)

Russia may have finally accepted that fact, but it still wants a say in the affairs of a nation it considers part of its sphere of influence. After unsuccessfully backing Yanukovych in the 2004 election, the Kremlin heaped scorn on Yushchenko for his attempts to build a national identity by promoting the Ukrainian language and lauding national heroes who fought against Russia, as well as for his support of Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia. Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have promised to repair relations with Moscow, but that doesn't mean they want to return to the Kremlin's fold. Tymoshenko pledged Thursday to steer Ukraine into the European Union within five years, and Yanukovych has recast himself as a moderate who also supports closer ties with the E.U.

In the end, the difference between the two may be as much about style as it is substance, with both widely seen as opportunists whose backers are eager to gain power. But Ukrainians, despite their disillusionment with the people running the country, still want to have a say in their country's future. "Ukrainians are ready to be mobilized," says Dmytro Potekhin, a civil society activist. "There's just no one to mobilize them."

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See the top 10 everything of 2009.

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