Whatever Happened to… Viktor Yushchenko?
17 September, 2015
Whatever Happened to… Viktor Yushchenko?
Do you remember Viktor Yushchenko? Of course you do

If not, here’s a quick reminder: He was the Ukrainian president who rode the wave of so-called color revolutions, along with Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili. The Rose Revolution in Georgia, and Orange in Ukraine, were meant to transform the ex-Soviet states into modern democracies.

“He’s living like a szlachta (a collective name for Polish and Ukrainian nobility), in his country estate, surrounded by beehives (Yushchenko is an avid apiarist, to the point of
being derisively nicknamed “Pasechnik,” or Beekeeper, by the Russian-speaking population) and windmills, frothing over his collection of antique items,” says Irakli Gogava, his former adviser.

While Georgia’s Rose Revolution has been hailed as a resounding success, the Orange one, which brought Yushchenko to power, didn’t quite Pan out. It floundered largely due to the country’s sheer size and its deeply entrenched oligarchs, who are none too keen on letting the reins of power slip from their grasp.

But let’s get back to the subject. In 2004, the whole world (well, almost) turned its head toward Yushchenko when he claimed that he’d been poisoned by his opponents and political enemies. While the claim remains unproven, the severely pockmarked face caused by toxin exposure became his most memorable feature – far more memorable, for some, than his political achievements.

Speaking of which, Yushchenko was no stranger to Ukrainian politics before becoming president. He previously served as chairman of Ukraine’s national bank, and as prime minister. But his successful political record took what could only be called a spectacular fall from grace with his own electorate, party, and former colleagues.

The miserable 5.5 percent of votes scrambled in the 2010 presidential elections (the worst result for any sitting president in history) and 1.1 percent in parliamentary elections are enough of a testimony to that. Whether his fall was orchestrated with outside help or was all of his own doing is a matter of perspective, but one thing is certain: Yushchenko didn’t live up to what was expected from him by the West, the good graces of which he won through his promises of sweeping reforms and steering the country towards the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.

But fortunes change, and those who persevere can rise again. That’s exactly the case for ex-President Saakashvili, who, after having to flee Georgia due to facing possible detention and having Interpol (temporarily) out for his blood, is now attempting to repeat the success of the Rose Revolution on a larger scale, acting as a governor of Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port city. Some say he’s even eyeing the post of Prime Minister.

Is there a realistic scenario of similar resurgence for Yushchenko? Apparently not. Among other things, he doesn’t seem very keen. Unlike comrade-turned-rival Yulia Timoshenko, Yushchenko remained largely silent and inactive during the Maidan events, opting for self-imposed political exile.

“He’s living like a szlachta (a collective name for Polish and Ukrainian nobility), in his country estate, surrounded by beehives (Yushchenko is an avid apiarist, to the point of being derisively nicknamed “Pasechnik,” or Beekeeper, by the Russian-speaking population) and windmills, frothing over his collection of antique items,” says Irakli Gogava, his former adviser.

Indeed, political turmoil seems to be the least of his worries now. He spends his days with his family in a village not far from Kiev, tending to land, trees, and livestock, and eating only what he grows himself in his vast fields.

“He had principles that he was reluctant to part with and that cost him dearly many times. But now he can live as he wants and he seems to have found inner peace,” concludes his former advisor. It’s hard not to agree. It does look like Yushchenko, after bidding politics farewell, and all the wiser from past shortcomings, is enjoying his retirement.

It’s not the triumphant happy ending that he would, have surely liked, but still, it’s a fate some of his contemporaries might be envying.

Originally published here

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