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Viktor Yushchenko

Political Figure

Born: 23 February 1954
Birthplace: Khoruzhivka, Ukraine
Best known as: President of the Ukraine, 2005-present
Viktor Yushchenko sprang to international prominence in 2004, when he ran for president of the Ukraine against the incumbent prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, then forced a re-vote after the deciding election appeared to be tainted by fraud. A former accountant and economist, Yushchenko was appointed head of Ukraine's national bank in 1993, shortly after the country gained independence from the former Soviet Union. Yushchenko was made prime minister in 1999 by president (and longtime Ukrainian power-broker) Leonid Kuchma. In 2001, Kuchma relieved the popular Yushchenko from his duties, and Yushchenko promptly became the leader of a liberal opposition coalition known as Our Ukraine. Handsome, charismatic and politically savvy, he attracted a growing following, especially among young pro-democracy activists. In the presidential elections of 2004, Yushchenko was considered the pro-western candidate, while Yanukovych had the support of both Kuchma and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Voting on 21 November was marred by confusion and apparent fraud, yet Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission still declared Yanukovych the winner. Supporters of Yushchenko swarmed into Kiev, clogging the streets and demanding a re-vote. This 'Orange Revolution' (named for the bright clothing the protesters wore) drew worldwide attention, and Yanukovych agreed to a repeat of the voting, which was held on 26 December 2004. Yushchenko won that election by a margin of roughly 52-44%, but Yanukovych immediately contested the results, claiming that "the constitution and human rights were violated." Ultimately the country's Supreme Court ruled that the results would stand, and Yushchenko was inaugurated as president in January of 2005. Since then he's been caught up in political rivalries while struggling to implement reforms. Besides Yanukovych, Yuschchenko has vied with Yulia Tymoshenko (Prime Minister since the end of 2007) for control of the Ukraine in a cycle of dissolved parliaments and new elections.
Extra credit: In September of 2004, during the presidential campaign, Yushchenko suddenly became ill and travelled to Austria for treatment. He returned several days later with his face badly pocked and disfigured. In early December of 2004, doctors in Austria who had tested Yushchenko said he appeared to have been poisoned with the chemical dioxin, which possibly had been concealed in soup. Doctors have said the skin condition could take two years to clear up, and the long-term effects on Yushchenko's health are unknown.

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