KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Yulia Tymoshenko, the braided darling of Ukraine's Orange Revolution who went on to be prime minister, is wasting away in prison — weakened from a hunger strike, bruised from prison beatings and afraid she will be force-fed by her political foes, her family said Friday.
Western concern about Tymoshenko has soared since she launched a hunger strike a week ago to protest alleged prison abuse. She claims that guards punched her in the stomach and twisted her arms and legs while forcibly taking her to a hospital to be treated for debilitating back pain.
The opposition leader's party claimed that a string of bombings Friday that injured dozens in eastern Ukraine that authorities blamed on terrorists may have been orchestrated by the government to deflect attention from her plight.
It is a dramatic reversal for a woman who became a global icon of democratic change during Ukraine's 2004 rallies against a stolen presidential election, in which she mesmerized the nation with ringing speeches from a frozen Kiev square as thousands of protesters huddled in a tent village.
Tymoshenko appears pallid and worn-out in photos of her lying in prison taken by Ukraine's top human rights official — a shadow of the glamorous figure who once faced crowds in haute-couture gowns and golden braids. The pictures by Nina Karpachova show blotches on Tymoshenko's abdomen and lower arm.
Her daughter told The Associated Press that her health was failing rapidly.
"She was in intense pain," Eugenia Tymoshenko said in a telephone interview. "She is very weak, she hasn't eaten for seven days, only drinking water."
Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence on charges of abusing her powers in a Russian energy deal. The West has strongly condemned the verdict as politically motivated and threatened to freeze cooperation with Ukraine.
She faces separate charges of evading tens of million hryvna (several million dollars) while heading an energy company in the mid-1990s. A court appearance in that case is scheduled Saturday; her daughter wasn't sure if her mother would be forced to appear.
Oleksandr Tymoshenko, the jailed opposition leader's husband, told the AP in the Czech capital of Prague — where he has been granted asylum — that he believes the Ukrainian government is slowly killing his wife.
"Everything that has been happening to Yulia Tymoshenko is a rehearsal of her physical destruction — a murder that the authorities have been planning to carry out since the beginning of repression against her."
Four explosions rocked the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk on Friday, injuring 27 people, including nine teenagers. The government blamed terrorism — but the Tymoshenko camp suspects a government-orchestrated diversion tactic.
Deputy parliament speaker Mykola Tymenko, a member of Tymoshenko's party, said he "does not rule out" that senior government members in President Viktor Yanukovych's government were involved in organizing the blasts.
The president's office declined to comment on the opposition charges.
In Berlin, the head of the renowned Charite hospital said it is "unlikely" that Ukraine will be able to successfully treat Tymoshenko's spinal condition, because the hospital where she is being taken does not have the expertise to carry out the complex treatment. Karl Einhaeupl and his team inspected the Kharkiv facility earlier this month.
Tymoshenko has suffered severe back pain since October, but she refuses treatment in Ukraine because "she does not trust the Ukrainian medical system" and fears she will be deliberately infected, Einhaeupl told reporters.
"I appeal to the Ukrainian president to be guided by humanitarian values and let her travel abroad to Europe to receive treatment," he said.
The doctors declined to comment on Tymoshenko's claim that she was abused by prison guards. Einhaeupl said he has seen recent photos of her showing what is "very obvious" bruising, but said the alleged abuse happened after their April 17 meeting.
Germany has been leading the European Union's critical stance on Ukraine over the Tymoshenko case. The government is also offering to treat her in Germany, but Kiev has rejected the offer. Recently, however, the Ukrainian leadership proposed that German doctors could come to Ukraine and treat her at Kharkiv.
But Einhaeupl and his colleague, Norbert Haas, said it would probably take months for a team of physicians and specialists to treat her condition appropriately.
"A short visit would not yield any substantial results," Haas said.
Einhaeupl stressed the doctors are concerned by Tymoshenko's hunger strike, saying she had deteriorated significantly since their first visit in January. He said he hoped to be able to examine her again within the next week; the visit would have to be approved by Ukrainian authorities.
In their evaluation of the Kharkiv hospital, the doctors say Ukrainian authorities have made great efforts to provide the best possible conditions for her treatment there.
"But Ms. Tymoshenko's particular problems of physical and psychological nature, as well as the particular evolution of her illness let it appear unlikely that the therapy there will be successful," the report stated.
Tymoshenko denies the abuse of power charges, saying they are part of a campaign by President Viktor Yanukovych, her longtime foe, to bar her from politics. Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in the 2010 presidential race, has denied involvement in the Tymoshenko case.
Ukraine is increasingly under pressure over its treatment of Tymoshenko. EU officials have threatened her case and those of other jailed opposition members could derail a planned rapprochement between Kiev and the 27-nation bloc.
German President Joachim Gauck canceled a visit to Ukraine next month on Thursday, and calls were growing from opposition lawmakers for EU government officials to boycott the Euro 2012 football championship that Ukraine will co-host in June.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday Chancellor Angela Merkel's top adviser on foreign policy issues discussed Tymoshenko's case again with Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Thursday. Seibert said the chancellor keeps herself "very informed about the Tymoshenko case."
Baetz reported from Berlin. Karel Janicek contributed from Prague. Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jbaetz
- Politics & Government
- Crime & Justice
- Yulia Tymoshenko
- Oleksandr Tymoshenko