KIEV, Ukraine– With her name plastered across media outlets worldwide, Yulia Tymoshenko is the woman of the hour and the figurehead of Ukraine. The hopes of the former Soviet nation, in the midst of a throwback to Cold War-era power struggles with Russia, are focused on the former Prime Minister. Nicknamed “Princess of the Orange Revolution” for her involvement in politically motivated opposition years ago. But who is Tymoshenko, and what can she do for the country that loves her so much?
Tymoshenko was born in 1960 in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine to a single mother and working-class family, struggling under the communist economic system typical the time. Originally named Yulia Grigyan, she went on to earn a degree in economic-cybernetics from Dnipropetrovsk State University and later a Ph.D. in economics from Kiev National University. Her educational specification was the national regulations of the tax system, which has since also been a focus of her professional and political career.
Before becoming the revolutionary “Princess” she is today, Tymoshenko was known as the “Gas Princess” for her position as CEO of Ukrainian Gasoline. Once proclaimed by Forbes Magazine as one of the most powerful women in the world and the wealthiest individual in Ukraine, her trade measures and fierce business manner quickly became famous.
In 1999, she decided to take her expertise to the political sphere and joined forces with Viktor Yushchenko, a rocky alliance that would dominate Ukrainian politics and gossip in the years directly following. She was elected Prime Minister to his Presidency in 2005, before her dismissal shortly after due to conflict within Parliament. She resumed the role two years later, serving from December 2007 to March 2010.
During her early years in Parliament Tymoshenko, in a sense, revolutionized Ukraine’s energy sector. She banned the practice of barter in the electricity market, as well as tax exemptions for many private organizations, restricting their power and heightening competition. Tymoshenko effectively enabled the government to pay proper funds to civil servants, totaling 18 billion hryvna in social service payments. Her guidance is widely valued for growing the country’s energy economy significantly.
Politically, Tymoshenko has never been known to shy away from conflict. As a member of parliament in 2004, she used her political voice to decry the corrupt practices and rigged election of her pro-Russian rival, Yanukovych, in what is now known as the Orange Revolution.
In retaliation, the recently-deposed Yanukovych pressed charges against her, citing shady business practices against her, which she has since denied as politically motivated falsifications. This led to Tymoshenko’s imprisonment from 2011 until last month, when opposition forces called for her release after months of pressure.
Her imprisonment was always a controversial subject, with accusations of physical abuse from guards followed by her temporary hunger strike in protest. In April 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the practices of her trial “arbitrary” and “unlawful.”
The 2014 Maidan Revolution has once again thrown Tymoshenko into the spotlight of revolution, with her release coinciding with Yanukovych’s violent overthrow. She won the favor of the people after giving an incredibly emotional speech in Kiev’s Independence Square last month, in honor of those who died during the conflict.
She called them heroes, stating passionately, “You changed everything – not the politicians, not the diplomats, you changed the world”.
Although she is currently reluctant to make her presidential run official, she has high hopes for Ukraine’s political and economic future. She has openly aligned herself with the opposition’s desire to move away from Russian trade and towards a stronger European Union alliance. She has openly denounced Ukraine’s membership in the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.
Aside from widespread public support, she also has the support of acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, who claims that the country’s economy is currently in a “catastrophic” state and desperately in need of a leader with a strong economic background.
“The country is on its knees,” Turchynov admitted. “Only a manager will raise it up, someone who knows what to do.”
Her work in parliament seems to indicate that she will be able to accomplish these ends. In 2004 alone, her energy policy increased the gross domestic product by 12 percent every quarter. A repeat of this type of increase would help diminish the rapid decline that has plagued Ukraine’s economy in recent years.
– Stefanie Doucette