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Yekatyerina Yushchenko-Chumachenko: It is impossible to influence my husband

Lesya Izmaylova
13:28, 5 August 2004 // "Moskovskyi Komsomolets"

 The life of Yekatyerina Yushchenko-Chumachenko is a two-volume novel. In the first – America, a brilliant career, as for the daughter of emigrants, and a desire to return to her native land. In the second – Ukraine, the most popular [politician] Victor Yushchenko, a large family, giving up the career, and the feeling of self-actualization. «I am making a career of a wife and a mother,» she says and with pleasure shares the secret of her salad recipe. Yekatyerina Mikhailovna will tell our readers what else the wife of the highest rated Ukrainian politician does.

- Yekatyerina Mikhailovna, what language would you rather use during the interview: Ukrainian, Russian, or English?

- I would prefer Ukrainian because I have been speaking it since childhood, as well as English. I learned Russian at school and can read freely and speak it pretty well. I often watch Russian television. We rarely watch Ukrainian news in the family.

- Why?

- In order not to get upset. It is no secret that the press belongs to my husband’s opponents and he is trying to keep the family away from the mudslinging that is common in politics. I understand Victor: he gets really tired and wants to spend time at home with the kids and with me, to turn away from the politics. This is why work-related topics are not often discussed at home.

- But Victor Yushchenko does seek advice from his wife sometimes, doesn’t he?

- Seek advice? Never! Quite the contrary; he sometimes comes home and I see that he has had a difficult day so I try asking what has happened but Victor declines to talk about it, saying, «Katya, I do not want to talk about work at home. Tell me better what the kids have been up to today?»

You know, it is funny to hear when somebody says that my husband always does as I say, that I have an influence over him, including in the political matters. It is impossible to influence my husband, not even on the domestic issues, unfortunately, let alone work. To be honest, I do not even advise him on making a salad and, to tell the truth, Victor makes it better than I do.

- Since we are talking about food, what is your signature dish?

- I like it very much when somebody presents cookbooks to me and I like buying them and ordering them over the Internet. My unique feature is that I try not to repeat myself and cook dishes from a variety of cuisines. Rarely can you taste the same thing twice in a row in my home. Victor is fond of soups so I sometimes try to surprise him with some new first-course dish. And we all like salads.

- Does Victor Andryeyevich appreciate your culinary skills?

- My husband likes simple food and is rather indifferent to delicacies.

- Has he ever criticized you?

- It did happen that he said something. It is especially true about sauces. Victor would say: «What is this all for? Let’s have something else…» I remember I have once prepared a fine meal: pate, meat, sauce… and invited Ivan Stepanovych Plyushch. But when Victor came, he looked at it all and sent the driver to get cucumbers, tomatoes, sausage, and bread. And they ate that. I was shocked!

- Yekatyerina Mikhailovna, you are a mother of three. Are you planning on going back to work since you did have a brilliant career?

- My career now is that of mother and wife. I used to put work first and dream of a professional career. However, after meeting and marrying Victor, after the birth of our first daughter I have reevaluated my views. I have dedicated myself to family and am completely happy. Moreover, I am doing what is important and interesting to me. For over ten years I have been working with «The children’s friends» foundation that helps orphans. Each summer we organize a camp in the Carpathians and Victor comes every time even if only for a few days. I am also interested in Holodomor (the Famine); since childhood I used to hear stories about the terrible winter of the ’33. My parents grew up in the villages: mother in Litki near Kiev and father in Zaitsivka on the border of the Kharkiv and Lugansk oblasts. Dad used to tell that half his village died in the winter of ’33, that his family lost several members and that he himself survived the Famine miraculously.

- Is it true that you used to occupy high positions in the USA state institutions?

- My first job after university was for the Human Rights Bureau and the Human Subjects Committee at the USA State Department; later I dealt with ethnic groups problems, including the Ukrainians, at the White House. I was not a state employee for long, however, having quitted it 13 years ago. Then I went back to work in finance, to the profession I received at university, and worked for the State Treasury of the United States.

- How did you manage to get into those institutions? Did somebody help you?

- I was supported by my entire family. My father has always wanted his children to get higher education. He has instilled in us since early childhood that education is the main thing. I graduated from the Chicago and Georgetown Universities, which diplomas are highly regarded. As far as friends in high places, I have never had them in my life. My family has never been rich and most our relations came from the Ukrainian Diaspora. We used to gather often – adults and children alike. My parents were emigrants and missed their native land, as did many in the Ukrainian Diaspora.

- What were your parents?

- Father was an electrician, mother – a seamstress, but she did not work after my birth. They worked hard all their lives to give me an education. I too started working 40 hours a week in high school – as a waitress at a café. All that money also went for education. My parents understood that to give me an education meant to give me a chance for a better life since theirs was not to be envied…

- Why? They did leave the USSR for a happier country…

- When they decided to do that, nobody was thinking about happiness. My parents met in Germany where they had been bought for forced labor during the war. After the war my father spent eight years in a German hospital with a horrible diagnosis – tuberculoses. My older sister lived in monasteries and orphanages while my mama worked to provide for dad’s treatment. He survived but was an invalid for the rest of his life.

Then, in the fifties, those who returned from labor camps were to the USSR were sent to the Siberian ones. Father with his bad health would have never survived that! So they were invited by Ukrainian Orthodox Church and went to Chicago.

- How did you come to Ukraine?

- I came with my mother in 1975 and 1979. Then I came to work here in 1991. First I headed the «Ukraine-USA» Foundation and in 1993 became the head of the Ukrainian representative office of the K.P.M.G. international auditing company. Two years later I met Victor. Then we got married. We brought my father here, took him to his native village in Lugansk oblast. Can you imagine what a man feels when he has not seen his sister for half a century! When dad died, we buried him in Ukraine, in Kiev as he wished.

- You know, despite the fact that you have been living in Ukraine for a long time, many still see you as an American and suspect that your family more often speaks English. Is it so?

- (laughing) Unfortunately, my husband does not speak English so well to communicate freely… It is certainly not true. I hope that the people have already had enough myths about the Yushchenko family, about me being a spy. You know, people often say at meetings: «What kind of American is she if her father is from the Donbass and her mother from Kiev?» I am happy that I have come back to my native land since I have heard so much about Ukraine from my parents since childhood. I think that I understand the feelings of those millions of Ukrainians who have been forced to go abroad to make a living. I think that they all wish to come back to their motherland and work here.

- Do you often visit Victor Andreyevich mother?

- Yes. Sometimes when Victor does not have time I go with the kids by myself. Just imagine that she has seen grandchildren and great-grandchildren already! Varvara Timofyeyevna personifies wisdom for me. I always listen to her pieces of advice and I know that her sons (Victor Andreyevich and Pyotr Andreyevich, editor’s note) listen to her. She worries about them very much and often speaks to theme about it. People from all over Ukraine come to see her! And she feeds all, listens to all, and tries to help all.

- The wives of politicians often engage in charity work. Do you?

- I think that, if a woman has an opportunity to do good work, she must do it. It is very important to attract the attention of men to humanitarian issues, such as children, pensioners, culture and arts issues. I certainly do try to find time for social work.

- When Victor Yushchenko’s property declaration was made public, the people saw that You are quite a wealthy woman…

- Victor and I have nothing to hide. I have really received a good education and made a good career in finance. Graduates of the prestigious higher learning institutions in America generally get high salaries right out of college. My former fellow students that work in business now, have an income of about 300 thousand dollars a year. As all people in working in the West, I invested money into securities, had a savings account, paid a certain amount into the retirement fund and, over 20 years of work, I accumulated a nifty sum.

- Yekatyerina Mikhailovna, do you like social events, visiting beauty parlors?

- I do not have the right age or family situation for going somewhere often. There are, of course, mandatory events that cannot be avoided but that is a part of Victor’s work. I really appreciate those evenings when we can go somewhere unofficially. We keep up with what’s on at the movie theatres, visit exhibitions, sometimes go to concerts; I really love the drama theater. The best evenings for our family, however, are those when a few friends visit us. It gives us opportunities to sit round the table, have a dinner, have some wine, listen to music, and talk. I do not like big receptions and Victor too tries to «run away» from them.

As far as fashion and beauty are concerned, I think that every woman ought to look after herself to look normal in society. It has never been a top priority for me. Going to a salon for me is more a responsibility. I minimize going to salons and doing shopping. Having a large family, however, I often have to go shopping, mostly for groceries.

- Do you often have guests?

- We are not seeing our friends as much as we used to. Twenty to thirty persons used to come to our dacha every weekend but now, with Taras’s birth, we try to spend more time with the children. Victor is so busy that there is simply no time! The number of people we communicate with now has become very limited: we have a few very close friends of long standing. They were with us earlier and are with us now. I know that, whatever position Victor is in, they will always be with us. I thank God for such people.

- Will you name them?

- I do not want to. I can only say that these are the people who became our son Taras’s Godparents, and the Godparents of our daughters. For the most part these people are far removed from politics.

- Taras is a late child, after all, his father is 50 years of age. What has changed in your approach to bringing up children?

- We have five children. The oldest – Lina – is a mother herself already who is raising a daughter and has graduated from university. Andrey is still a student. We do not have to bring them up any longer – they are old enough already. I do not think, however, that much has changed with age. Victor demands that the children respect and love the family and love for the country he demands from all – the older and the younger ones. Attitude towards children changes with age, certainly: if you have children when you are still young, you tend to think more about yourself, about career, about living your life, buying an apartment. Then, when you have already achieved something in life, you think more about the children, find time to admire them.

- Does Victor Andreyevich spend much time with the children?

- All his free time.

- You have mentioned some time that the father wakes up the kids no matter how late he comes home. Is it still the case?

- Unfortunately, yes. He comes home, wakes everybody up, sits them on the sofa and starts asking about their day.

- And who is the early bird in the family?

- Christina. She can wake up at half past five and walk around the house singing, reading, and playing. Victor likes it when she climbs into our bad and whispers something in his ear. He continues sleeping but insists that he hears! Sophia is different: she can wake up, eat something, and come to sleep with me.

- What kind of music does your family listen to?

- Different music. I turn on classical music for the children since I have heard somewhere that it helps to develop mathematical skills. We like our Ukrainian artists most though: Nina Matvienko, Oksana Bilozir, Aleksandr Ponomaryov, Taras Petrinenko, Oleg Skripka, «Okean Elzy,» and other popular singers. We have a large audio library of classical music and of Ukrainian performers. Victor loves listening to music while driving. If somebody presents a tape to us, it turns into a tragedy since we need one for the house and one for the car.

- What present do you cherish the most?

- That would be the drawings of my daughters Christinka and Sophiyka. Every day they draw our family and write in big letters: «MAMA, TATO» («Mama, Daddy»). It is interesting that they still draw Taras in their mom’s tummy. Then they wrap them, decorate with ribbons, and present to us. And every day we have to be delighted by them, praise the children, tell them that those are the best pictures in the world. For Victor and I they truly are. 

 

 

 

 

 


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Also read: "Interviews" (before 13:28, 5 August 2004)
«There will be no defeat» - 11:39, 30 July 2004
Victor Yushchenko: «Today we witness the death agony of our regime» - 10:58, 23 July 2004 // Ukraina Moloda
Ukraine opposition vows to end «corrupt regime» - 14:31, 1 July 2004 // Reuters
Kateryna Yushchenko: “May you have the strength and courage to fight for what you deserve” - 10:52, 10 June 2004 // Rukh-Press
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Victor Yushchenko: Europe lacks Ukraine - 11:44, 31 January 2005 // Press Service of Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko
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Viktor Yushchenko: «I Will say to those who are waiting for me to drop out of the race: Not on Your Life!» - 10:20, 9 October 2004 // Press Service of Viktor Yushchenko
Victor Yushchenko plans to complete his treatment in several days - 22:19, 8 October 2004 // 5 Kanal
Also read: "Family"
Kateryna Yushchenko. Biography - 10:43, 31 March 2005 // Press-service of Kateryna Yushchenko
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