Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko (R) and Nataliya Korolevska (L, front), leader of "Ukraine Forward" political party visit the Volodarskaya boarding-school in Kyiv Oblast on July 28. Shevchenko said he was joining "Ukraine Forward" social democratic party after announcing that he was quitting football for politics. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Aleksey Solodunov
One famous actor, one world-known football player and one attractive woman whose dreamy and determined face the Ukrainians have seen almost daily during the last six months.
That’s how the top three of electoral list of Nataliya Korolevska’s Ukraine-Forward Party looks like, which she dramatically presented at sunrise on Aug. 1 in the middle of a cornfield in Kyiv Oblast.
Korolevska, known thanks to her ubiquitous TV ads as the “woman who has a dream,” surprised many with her unexpected recruitment of Ostap Stupka, an actor and son of the late acting legend Bohdan Stupka, and Andriy Shevchenko, the former Dynamo Kyiv football great.
Experts are divided on whether the star recruits will be enough to push Korolevska above the 5 percent threshold needed for election to parliament, but all agreed that her campaign will be one of the most noticeable in the run-up to the Oct. 28 parliamentary election.
“Korolevska has been obviously the most noticeable by her presence in media space until now,” Maksym Lazebnyk, head of the All-Ukrainian Advertising Coalition, said.
Another advertising expert Artem Bidenko estimated that Korolevska was spending up to Hr 10 million (or 1 million euros) per month only for direct advertisement including TV and billboards. She also gets a lot of space in newspapers and air time on TV, much of it paid-for “advertorials” – advertising disguises as real news, according to critics. Korolevska flatly denies the charge. But News One TV aired an audio recording of a PR woman who allegedly asked about the possibility of paid-for news coverage of the politician.
Who stands behind Korolevska?
Korolevska, 37, from Luhansk Oblast, started her political career in the team of Yulia Tymoshenko. She adopted many features of the ex-prime minister’s political style. Both women were united by personal friendship and have lots in common: they came to politics from big family businesses of southeastern Ukraine, and while Tymoshenko earned millions on the natural gas trade, Korolevska became rich thanks to metal, coal and ice cream.
But the alliance came to the end after Tymoshenko was sent to prison for seven years in October, following her conviction that she abused her role as prime minister by signing a 2009 gas deal with Russia.
Soon after, Kololevska was excluded from Tymoshenko’s BYuT parliament faction after being accused of voting with pro-government Party of Regions on issues. On one key vote – amending the criminal code in a way that could have allowed for Tymoshenko’s release – she violated BYuT party discipline by not voting in support of a resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Her vague positions fuel speculation she is pro-government. Her story is that BYuT officials Oleksandr Turchynov and Andriy Kozhemiakin wanted to get rid of her to sell places in party list for the parliament elections.
Since then, Kololevska is focused on her own political party. But her former allies believe she has a secret alliance with the authorities in order to siphon votes from the opposition.
“It is clear that even with big money it would be impossible to hold such a campaign without the support of the government,” said Sergiy Pashynsky, lawmaker from BYuT, adding that Korolevska “cynically betrayed Tymoshenko.”
The media have published various hypotheses about Korolevska’s sponsors, starting with the most-known tycoons of eastern Donbas, who had business relations with her, and finishing with the Russia thanks to the fact that Korolevska’s elder brother Kostiantyn lives in Moscow and even used to work for the government of the Russian Federation.
“The funds [of Korolevska] are so huge that we can talk only about the richest people in the country,” Lazebnyk admitted. “She would hardly be able to pay even for one month of her campaign and also for Shevchenko,” he added.
Korolevska declared an income of Hr 167,640 per year and Hr 23,171 more on personal bank accounts in 2011.
She denied in TV interviews any alliance with oligarchs, promising to open all of her financial sources just after the end of parliamentary campaign, saying that it is only then when her sponsors would be safe from pressure of the state bodies.
Korolevska couldn’t be reached by phone for the Kyiv Post and failed to answer the written question by the time of running the story.
Advertising expert Bidenko believes that the appearance of Andriy Shevchenko in the party list will not help her, since the football star may overshadow the political brand of Korolevska. “Shevchenko will lose respect and Korolevska – the remains of her image of supporter of businessmen and will turn into party for everybody,” Bidenko said. “And without values it will be a collapse,” he added.
After promoting herself in parliament as an advocate of small and middle business, Korolevska later turned to borrowing he PR strategies used by other politicians in the past, the experts say.
“It’s time for a new generation of politicians,” she said addressing to delegates of her party congress. This slogan was used by another supposedly new and genuine political force of in the 2002 parliament race, called the “Winter Crop” generation. The leaders, Inna Bogoslovska and Valery Khoroshkovsky, turned out to be as pro-government as they come and their sudden arrival gave rise to claims they were a project of ex-President Leonid Kuchma.
Korolevska is also criticized for attempts to resemble Tymoshenko in speech, clothing and electoral strategy, as Tymoshenko also used a prominent football forward Oleg Blohin in the parliamentary campaign of 1998.
Still, her popularity has grown from 1.3 percent of support in February to 4.7 percent in June, the polls show. The experts say that Korolevska is gaining potential voters not among the opposition camp but from former supporters of Sergiy Tigipko, the deputy prime minister who finished third in the 2010 presidential election before throwing in his lot with the pro-presidential Party of Regions.
“The people, who were in search of an alternative to Yanukovych in Tigipko as more liberal, intelligent and modern politician, now have found it in Korolevska,” Kostiantyn Dykan, political expert of Razumkov center said. He added, however, that Korolevska unlikely manages to overcome 5 percent barrier for coming into parliament.
But Oleksandr Chernenko, head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, said in the last three months Korolevska has managed to become a “real player” in these elections, especially with the additions of Shevchenko and Stupka – helping lift her party to the magic 5 percent of voters.
But for all the talk about new politics, she practices the same old Soviet-style secrecy in running her party. She only released the top 10 names of her candidates only on Aug. 2. The rest of the names were closed, even for top party members.
"I would also like to see it," Ostap Stupka, No. 3 on the party list, told journalists.Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org