By Benjamin Bidder in Kiev
The villa on Kiev's Turov Street seems more fortress-like than ever. Tall iron gates block the driveway into the interior courtyard of Yulia Tymoshenko's "Fatherland" party headquarters in the Ukrainian capital.
Tymoshenko's lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, who is currently one of the most influential people in the opposition party, shuffles through the hallways in shorts and sneakers. Images of better times hang along the staircase, photographs showing Tymoshenko when she was a champion of the people, and free. Indeed, if the complex on Turov Street is a fortress, it is one awaiting the return of its commander.
Yevhenia Tymoshenko, Yulia's daughter, is meeting with journalists in a wood-panelled room her mother once used for conferences. The 32-year-old attended high school and college in Great Britain. In 2005, she married the British rock musician Sean Carr, from whom she is now separated. For years, she has carefully avoided the public spotlight. But the longer the drama surrounding her mother continues, the more insistently she is preparing to fill the vacuum that was created when she was sentenced to seven years in prison last October for allegedly abusing her position while serving as Ukraine's prime minister, which she did in 2005, and again from 2007 to 2010.
Since appearing next to her mother and her lawyers during the trial, Yevhenia has become one of the best-known faces of the opposition. Just as her mother once did, Yevhenia now travels abroad -- to Brussels, Berlin and Washington -- in an effort to get foreign leaders to take a tough stance toward Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's president and a long-time rival of Tymoshenko's.
As a leader of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko helped torpedo Yanukovych's initial bid for the presidency. But in the 2010 presidential election she lost to him and his Party of Regions. "He wants to isolate my mother from political life," Yevhenia says. "It looks like revenge."
Global Appeals for Support
Yevhenia has already spoken before the US Senate and publicly appealed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for support. She says she is thankful that German President Joachim Gauck cancelled a planned trip to Ukraine and that other German politicians have threatened to boycott the country. "This pressure gives us hope that my mother will survive and will be free," she says, adding that Europe must "use all possible means" to help her and must "stop Yanukovych by all means."
She then repeats accusations claiming that prison authorities have mistreated her mother. She says that they only gave her mother 20 minutes to pack up her things before being transferred to a Ukrainian hospital to receive treatment for a slipped disc. She says her mother refused to go because she could "not be appropriately treated in the hospital according to German doctors."
Yevhenia says that the prison's deputy director and two orderlies wrapped her mother in a sheet and took her out of the cell by force. In the process, she adds, they left bruises on her body. The authorities claim the bruises result from self-inflicted injuries. But if this were true, Yevhania notes, hospital administrators could easily prove their claim by releasing footage from the video camera installed in her mother's cell.
Aside from the lawyer Vlasenko, Yevhenia is the only person who has been in steady contact with her mother. In Kiev, people are saying that she has what it takes to lead her mother's party herself -- and not just because the two look a lot alike.
Still, Yevhenia says that she is only reluctantly assuming this new role. "I am not a political figure," she says. "I am a messenger for my mother."
Caught in a Political Maze
Yevgenia reports that her mother said she has really only wanted to read the Bible in prison, but that she hasn't been able to concentrate on anything other than politics. When her mother was first imprisoned in 2001 under the authoritarian regime of then-President Leonid Kuchma, Yevhenia had a hard time dealing with it. "She was a successful businesswoman," Yevhenia says. "And at that time I couldn't at all understand why she would even get involved in politics."
Germany has offered to provide Tymoshenko with treatment at Berlin's Charité hospital, but Ukrainian officials have so far turned these offers down. Still, Yevhenia questions whether her mother would agree to this. "As her daughter, I want her to get out of jail and go to Germany as soon as possible," she says. "But I doubt she'd go abroad."
While speaking, Yevhenia constantly doodles on a notepad. She is drawing a labyrinth. She also says that the West shouldn't believe that her family is confident that the affair will be over after her mother has received the appropriate medical treatment. "We can't forget that she is sitting innocently in jail," she says. "This battle will only be over once my mother is free."
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