A year after Orange Revolution, Ukraine sees grayer days
Unmet promises, corruption leave country divided
KIEV -- One cold day this fall, Inna Grigoryeva stepped out in her orange scarf, hoping it would add a bit of cheer, and she was overwhelmed by the smiles and affectionate looks from passersby.
A year after Ukraine's color-coded Orange Revolution, the excitement and ideals that brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the capital's main square are already the stuff of orange-tinged nostalgia. Reality has taken on a darker hue, muddied by unfulfilled promises and fallible heroes.
''The fairy tale written on Independence Square now calls to mind a murder mystery. Only the victim isn't a person -- but hope," said Andriy Yusov, a leading member of Pora, the youth group that was one of the driving forces in the protests.
As Ukraine prepares for the revolution's anniversary on Tuesday, its leaders are divided in a welter of allegations of corruption and influence-peddling. Those who hoped for a clean break from Russia and acceptance in the West feel let down, while in the Russian-speaking east, many feel their country has been hijacked.
The magic may have faded and the media may speculate that the anniversary celebrations will be less exuberant than might be expected, but Grigoryeva, a journalist, says the reactions to her scarf tell her that orange is still a potent symbol, and that enough unity is left to ensure that come Tuesday, ''all of Kiev will be orange."
With opinion polls showing a majority thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction, there's a natural inclination to fall back on the heady days of last November.
The Orange Revolution began hours after the polls closed on the Nov. 21 presidential election. As the Central Election Commission began churning out fraudulent vote counts in favor of Russia's man, Viktor Yanukovych, reformist candidate Viktor Yushchenko summoned his own partisans to Independence Square. They poured in, pitching hundreds of tents and vowing to stay until justice prevailed. Disciplined, cheerful, even picking up their cigarette butts, they demanded freedom and democracy.
Outgoing president Leonid Kuchma appeared on television and called for an end to ''this so-called revolution." European envoys scrambled to mediate. Politicians in the Russian-speaking provinces talked secession.
Twelve days later, the Supreme Court declared the vote count fraudulent and ordered the election rerun. On Dec. 26, Yushchenko won the rerun. Yanukovych fought on in the courts, but to no avail. But the good will didn't last.
The revolutionaries were a mismatched group of reformers, socialists, and populists united only by their hatred of Kuchma's corrupt regime. They had scores to settle, and some had political skeletons to hide. They inherited a nation divided between the pro- Russia east and the nationalist west. With just 52 percent of the votes, Yushchenko's victory was less than a landslide.
Initially, the new government plunged into action with pension and salary hikes, sacked 18,000 bureaucrats, and summoned former officials for questioning.
Yushchenko, 51, traveled to the hostile east to publicly berate officials and remind them that he was ''the president of the whole country." But Ukrainians say that the revolution has failed to deliver on promises to improve living standards and restore trust in government, that it has been tarnished by corruption allegations and backroom political deals, and that Yushchenko is cozying up to the revolution's enemies.
In an attempt to mollify his opponents in eastern Ukraine, Yushchenko signed a truce with Yanukovych. He has also sent conciliatory messages to the Kremlin.
Yushchenko insists that Ukraine is still knocking on the doors of NATO and the European Union, though neither seems to be in any rush to respond.
At a televised session this month with students, Yushchenko reminded the young people of how much he had paid, for his country's sake. ''I sit in front of you without my own face," he said, referring to pockmarks and swelling that still show from his dioxin poisoning last year -- a case still unsolved but widely viewed as an effort to derail his presidential bid.
''I think that I drank not only my dose, but also a dose for all of you, as we lived in a regime that didn't allow us to live," he said.