KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko, a bitter foe of the embattled president, was freed from jail Saturday by parliament and rushed to the capital where she addressed more than 30,000 supporters in Independence Square chanting: “Yulia, Yulia, Yulia!”
The charismatic Tymoshenko heaped praise on anti-government protesters who have witnessed Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich leave the capital city in the past day after the parliament voted to remove him for office and call a new presidential election in April. She urged protesters to remain in the square until a new president is elected.
“Today we have an open road to have the Ukraine you want,” Tymoshenko told the crowd. “The policy of behind-the-scenes intrigues is over. By the blood you shed, by your heroism, by your patriotism you deserved the right to rule over your Ukraine.”
Tymoshenko urged that her sworn enemy “Yanukovich and his cronies” be caught and delivered to protesters in the square. The emotional pitch of her speech was so high that it was interrupted several times by calls for medical assistance in the dense crowd as some people worn out by long days of violence-marked demonstrations passed out.
Some found it hard to recognize the blond woman with a trademark braid wrapped around her head. The famous braid was in place, but her face was swollen and her small figure was pushed onto the square's stage in a wheelchair, a consequence of illness in jail. Her words, however, retained their power.
“I want to apologize for all politicians and all officials which are unworthy of you,” she said. “From this moment there won't be another Ukraine, different than what you want. I will be your guarantor for it.”
Vadim Karasyov, head of the Institute of Global Strategies think tank, said her speech indicated that she was already campaigning to replace Yanukovich. “I don't see who can challenge her for presidency now.”
Vitali Klitschko, a popular opposition leader and former world heavyweight boxing champion thought to have presidential ambitions of his own, was not among a couple of dozen prominent opposition leaders standing behind Tymoshenko and listening to her speech with solemn faces.
Close to the end of her speech somebody shouted: “A traitor in the crowd!” Tymoshenko's burly security guards immediately stood in front of her as dozens of young men in helmets with clubs began elbowing their way through the crowd in search of an enemy agent who was never found.
In the commotion that ensued, Tymoshenko was quietly rolled away from the stage.