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Oped: ‘Tymoshenko had her chance, now it's time to hit reset’

Photo: AFP
4 min

Ukrainians have a unique chance to bring genuine change to their country -- but former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is not the right person to lead the charge, writes prominent Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Leshchenko.


One of the dramatic moments of the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych was the release of his onetime nemesis, Yulia Tymoshenko, last Saturday. She immediately flew to Kiev and gave an impassioned speech on Independence Square that left little if any doubt of her desire to return to mainstream politics. In the emotion of the moment, her speech was received with cheers. But many Ukrainians view the prospect of a Tymoshenko comeback with great concern. Not least Serhiy Leshchenko, one of Ukraine's most prominent investigative journalists. This is a translation of what he wrote on his blog.

"Yulia, basta

We Ukrainians have obtained a unique chance to rebuild our country. That is not something that happens often. It was a gift of destiny accompanied by a procession of coffins in Kyiv.

After the failure of the Orange Revolution, we were about to be crushed under the yoke of a gangster-dictator. But we got a second chance and paid for it with a hundred lives.

That chance is the chance to press the "reset" button in politics. Which means new faces should emerge. The faces of people with unimpeachable moral credentials. People who will be able to say “no” to oligarchs like Rinat Akhmetov, Dmytro Firtash, or Viktor Medvedchuk, and will not engage in backstage games.

Yes, Yulia Tymoshenko was imprisoned illegally, and her sentencing was a political order. No proof of her personal enrichment as a result of gas contracts with Putin has been found. But, with all due respect, Yulia, you had your turn to lead Ukraine already.

Journalists at Viktor Yanukovich's estate have found thousands of documents relating to bribes. I have similar documents proving that you were paying bribes to Pavlo Lazarenko, the former Prime Minister jailed in the US for money-laundering and fraud in 2006 (he was released in 2012).

I also have a video statement from an FBI agent stating that you were Pavlo Lazarenko’s accomplice and were transferring bribes to his account. I have a package of payment documents relating to transfers you made to Lazarenko, as well as the testimony of your grateful partners, and to the front companies you used to create the illusion of competition in public tenders whereby you and your associates creamed off public money.

This evidence was not collected by corrupt and unreliable Ukrainian prosecutors, but by American investigators from the Department of Justice and the FBI.

And I have just listed a few items. There is much more. There are stories of eyewitnesses saying that you, Yulia Volodymyrivna (Tymoshenko), cancelled your visit to New York out of fear that you would be arrested in conjunction with the Lazarenko affair.

Please don’t give us the same old excuse that in the 1990s it was impossible to do business in Ukraine without paying bribes, or that it's impossible to survive without kickbacks. Each of us makes a free moral choice as to whether to pay bribes, a still freer one as to whether to accept them - and doing business itself is a matter of choice.

I do not want to spend my time digging up dirt and writing about the corrupt past of the future president of Ukraine - the one elected after the country suffered its worst bloodshed since the Second World War. But if you become President, Yulia Volodymyrivna, that is what I will do.

You are free. Pursue your business interests or philanthropy - or perhaps you would like the position of director of the corruption museum some want to open at Yanukovych's residence, Mezhihirya. But don't run for president! Three months of protests on Maidan, dozens of dead, hundreds of injured, the city centre ravaged... All that was not for you, Yulia.

There is a "permanent" protest camp devoted exclusively to Yulia Tymoshenko just a few hundred metres from Maidan, on Khreshchatyk Street, next to the Pechersky district court that issued that politically motivated sentence back in 2011. Set up and maintained by her party, it consists of a few empty tents, dusty and windblown. No one re-invigorated it during the recent protests. Shouldn't that give a person pause for thought?"

Translated into English by Gulliver Cragg


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