Yushchenko was born in the village of Khoruzhivka in Sums'ka oblast', into the family of a teacher. He studied economics in Ternopil' and afterwards worked as a rural accountant in Ivano-Frankivs'ka oblast'. In 1976, he was hired in Sums'ka oblast's branch of the USSR State Bank. He was later promoted to the post of deputy chairman of the Ukraine Agro-Industrial Bank in Kiev.
In 1993, he started working in the newly-formed National Bank of Ukraine and became its head in 1997. As such, he played an important part in the creation of Ukraine's national currency, the hryvnia, and the establishment of a modern regulating system for commercial banking. He also successfully overcame a debilitating wave of hyper-inflation that hit the country and managed to defend the value of the currency following the 1998 financial crisis in Russia.
In December 1999, Yushchenko was nominated as prime minister by President Leonid Kuchma and was ratified in this post by an overwhelming majority of 296-12 in parliament. Significant economic progress was made during Yushchenko's cabinet service, though critics argue that this was made possible by the general situation of the economy, and was not the result of his actions. Soon, his government (particularly, deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko) became embroiled in a confrontation with influential coal-mining and natural gas industry leaders. The conflict resulted in a 2001 no-confidence vote by the parliament, which was mainly the work of Communists, who had opposed Yushchenko's economic policies, and centrist groups associated with the country's powerful "oligarchs". The vote was carried by 263 to 69 and resulted in Yushchenko's removal from office. The fall of his government was viewed with dismay by many Ukrainians; four million votes were gathered in support of a petition supporting him and opposing the parliamentary vote and a 10,000-strong demonstration was held in Kiev.
In 2002, Yushchenko became the leader of the Our Ukraine (Nasha Ukrayina) political coalition, which received a plurality of seats in the parliamentary election that year. However, the number of seats won wasn't enough for a majority, and the efforts to form it together with other opposition parties failed. Since then, Yushchenko has remained the leader and public face of the Our Ukraine group (Nasha Ukrayina). He was widely regarded as the leader of anti-president opposition in the government, since other opposition parties are less influential and have fewer seats in the parliament.
Yuschenko was elected president of Ukraine during a drawn-out disputed election in late 2004-early 2005.
Yushchenko is married to Kateryna Yushchenko-Chumachenko (his second wife). She is a Ukrainian-American born in Chicago and a former official with the U.S. State Department, where she worked as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Opponents of Yushchenko have criticized her for remaining a U.S. citizen. During the recent election campaign, Kateryna was accused of exerting the influence of the U.S. government on her husband's decisions, as an employee of the U.S. government or even a CIA agent. Russian television journalist Mikhail Leontyev had earlier accused her of leading a U.S. project to help Yushchenko seize power in Ukraine; in January 2002, she won a libel case against him. Ukraine's pro-government Inter television channel repeated Leontyev's allegations in 2001 but in January 2003 she won a libel case against the channel as well.
Yushchenko has five children: three daughters and two sons. Yushchenko's main hobbies are Ukrainian traditional culture (including folk ceramics and archaeology), mountaineering and beekeeping.
Political Portrait and 2004 Presidential Election
Since the end of his term as prime minister, Yushchenko has become a charismatic political figure and he is popular among Ukrainians in the western and central regions of the country. As of 2001–2004, his rankings in popularity polls were higher than those of the president at the time, Leonid Kuchma.
People who support Yushchenko's opposition movement wear and drive with orange ribbons; trees, stores, and offices are decorated in orange colors. Even wedding corteges are orange. This is known as the Orange Revolution.
As a politician, Viktor Yushchenko is widely perceived as a mixture of West-oriented and moderate Ukrainian nationalist. He is also an advocate of massive privatization of the economy. His opponents (and allies) sometimes criticize him for indecision and failure to reveal his position, while advocates argue that these are the signs of Yushchenko's commitment to teamwork, consensus, and negotiation. He is also often accused of being unable to form a united and strong team that is free of inner quarrels. One of his political allies is Yulia Timoshenko who, during the current Kuchma presidency, was arrested and then cleared of fraud charges relating to gas privatization, while serving as deputy prime minister in a Yushchenko cabinet.
In 2004, as President Kuchma's term came to an end, Yushchenko announced that he was an independent candidate for president. His major rival was Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Since his term as prime minister, Yushchenko has slightly modernized his political platform, adding social partnership and other liberal slogans to older ideas of European integration, including Ukraine joining NATO, and fighting corruption. Supporters of Yushchenko are organized in the "Syla Narodu" ("Power of the People") electoral coalition, which is led by himself and his political ally Yuliya Tymoshenko, with the Our Ukraine coalition being the main constituent force.
Yushchenko's campaign was built on face-to-face communication with the voters, since the government prevented most major TV channels from providing equal coverage to the candidates. Meanwhile, his rival, Yanukovych, frequently appeared in the news, even accusing Yushchenko, whose father was a Red Army soldier imprisoned at Auschwitz, of being "a Nazi."
Dioxin Poisoning and its Political Repercussions
The campaign was often bitter, controversial, and violent, with accusations of "dirty tricks" from both sides. Yushchenko became seriously ill in early September 2004. He was flown to Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus clinic for treatment and diagnosed with "acute pancreatitis, accompanied by interstitial edematous changes", said to be due to "a serious viral infection and chemical substances which are not normally found in food products", which Yushchenko claimed to be the work of agents of the government. After the illness, his face became heavily disfigured, bloated, and pockmarked.
After seeing Mr. Yushchenko's deformed face on the evening news, the Dutch toxicologist Bram Brouwer contacted the Rudolfinerhaus to test some of Yushchenko's blood at the Free University of Amsterdam on dioxin. According to Dr Michael Zimpfer, president of the Rudolfinerhaus, these tests provided conclusive evidence that Yushchenko's condition resulted from "high concentrations of dioxin, most likely orally administered".
This theory had already been suggested by British toxicologist John Henry of St. Mary's Hospital in London, as the marks on Yushchenko's face are chloracne, a characteristic symptom of dioxin poisoning. Other scientists suggested that the illness might have been the result of rosacea but this theory failed to account for the severe internal medical problems suffered by Yushchenko. On December 11, Austrian doctors confirmed Yushchenko was poisoned with TCDD dioxin, and has more than 1,000 times (other sources say 6,000 times) the usual concentration in his body. This is the second highest dioxin level ever measured in a human. Yushchenko's chief of staff Oleg Ribachuk has suggested that the poison used was a mycotoxin called T-2, also known as "Yellow Rain", a Soviet-era substance which was reputedly used in Afghanistan as a chemical weapon.
Yushchenko has linked the poisoning to a dinner with a group of senior Ukrainian officials, including the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Ihor Smeshko, on the evening before Yushchenko falling ill.
An Unprecedented Three Rounds of Voting
The initial vote, held on 31 October 2004, saw Yushchenko obtaining 39.87% in front of Yanukovych with 39.32%. As no candidate reached the 50% margin required for outright victory, a second round of run-off voting was held on 21 November 2004. Although a 75% voter turnout was recorded, observers reported many irregularities and abuses across the country, such as organized multiple voting and extra votes for Yanukovych after the polls closed. Exit poll results put Yushchenko ahead in the western and central provinces of the country.
The alleged electoral fraud, combined with the fact that the exit polls recorded a result (an 11% margin of victory for Yushchenko in one poll) so radically different from the final vote tally (a 3% margin of victory for Yanukovych), prompted Yushchenko and his supporters to refuse to recognize the results.
After thirteen days of massive popular protests in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, the election results were overturned by the Supreme Court and a re-run of the run-off election was ordered for December 26. Yushchenko proclaimed a victory for the opposition and declared his confidence that he would be elected with at least 60% of the vote. He did win the third round, but with a smaller, 8% margin.
On January 23, 2005, 12pm (Kiev time), the inauguration of Viktor Yushchenko as the President of Ukraine took place. The event was attended by 64 foreign delegations.
President Yuschenko with his American-born wife Katerina and family, on Inauguration Day
First 100 Days in Office
President Viktor Yushchenko has said his government is still on track as he marked his first 100 days in office.
"We haven't betrayed any of the slogans from Independence Square," he said, recalling the mass protests that helped bring him to power.
His presidency remains popular at home and abroad, despite continuing problems with the economy, correspondents say.
A recent opinion poll gave Mr. Yushchenko an approval rating of 60%.
The poll, conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, also suggested that 47% of Ukrainians believe the country is heading in the right direction.
The president marked his 100th day in office, on May 3rd, while on holiday with his family in the Crimea.