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A very tired nation

Yulia Tymoshenko
file photo
These past few days have gotten me to thinking: How easily leaders ­ people you look up to, people you trust to solve major national problems, real bigheads ­ how easily they come and go. When I was about nine, a buddy of mine, who I used to hurl stones at pigeons in the park with, asked me where I thought Boris Yeltsin came from. I wasn't sure if he meant Adam and Eve or Gorbachev.

Sometimes I wonder whether he'll ask me where the Big B's gone if I ever get to see him again. Back then I told him Yeltsin came in a tank, a solid fact. Solid as metal. I saw him on top of that tank reading from a paper which must have been when he became president. I was squished in a massive crowd, and there was excitement and triumph and cheering for hope and a new Russia. I was going to tell that pigeon-killing comrade of mine how it didn't really matter where a head of state came from, so long as they advocated democracy, but he was already distracted by a pack of black crows. Sometimes I wonder whether mature, fully-developed adults are really just children who can be sidetracked just as easily.

I was in Kiev over the weekend, visiting friends and all, and every time I had a free minute, I'd ask people what they thought about the abuse-of-office trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Other than Tymoshenko supporters at a sprawling tent city outside the court, nobody seemed to give a sheep's shine. True, there is a lot of ill feeling among ordinary Ukrainians about the mass street protests ­ the so-called Orange Revolution ­ of six years ago that propelled Tymoshenko to power. But then, the 50-year-old seems to be the only person daring to take a principled stand in a country that is becoming increasingly similar to neighboring Belarus, famously described by the United States as "Europe's last dictatorship."

In Kiev's main Independence Square, I ask Oleh whether he thought Tymoshenko was the victim of a vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovich.

"I dunno and frankly, I don't much care," he simpered. Any chance of a not guilty decision? "Nothing will change either way."

Lydia was taking her regular evening stroll when I confronted her. She had more sympathy for her fellow countrywoman than Oleh, but argued Tymoshenko was getting the bashing she deserved.

"Believe me, in 2004 I was crying for change just like other people were, but years passed and nothing changed," she said. "This may well be a show trial, but I want to cringe when Yulia's making claims to sainthood."

For Yanukovich, whose rigged victory in the 2004 election was annulled by Tymoshenko-led protests, it has been a complete turnaround.

Does Lydia support the guy who once quipped that Chekhov was a famous Ukrainian poet?

"Well not really, but at least he's given us some sort of stability. Ukrainians are a very tired nation."

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