Orobets emerges from revolution as Ukraine's leading lady

Lesya Orobets says Crimean crisis challenges global security


She is the rising star in Ukrainian opposition politics, and the flame-haired parliamentarian who was in Kiev’s Independence Square when protesters battled riot police has no doubt that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is not finished trying to regain control of her country.

Lesya Orobets, 31, a mother of two young daughters who plans to run for mayor of Kiev in May, has emerged as a charismatic face of the revolution that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych. She told she believes Ukraine’s fourth revolution since 1917 is the real birth of the country – the moment a true post-Soviet national identity is being forged.


“Putin had a dream of re-creating the USSR or the Russian empire and we resisted and ruined his dream; now he is trying to ruin ours,” Orobets said, adding that Ukraine's new government will not cede Crimea to Russia, a move she said would be "trading territory for peace.”

Orobets, who was first elected to parliament at the age of 25, quickly earned a reputation as a rights champion and foe of cronyism. She battled the endemic corruption overseen by Yanukovych.

Her belief that the nation that has long lived in the shadow of its eastern neighbor is emerging as truly independent is shared by many, especially in Kiev..

“Can you notice now that the Ukrainian nation starts to speak with one voice?” asks Petro Poroshenko, a candy magnate known as the "Chocolate King" and the only oligarch to support fully the Maidan uprising from the start. “The top priority is the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Of course there is an attempt to create (by Russia) a fifth column inside nine or 10 Ukrainian regions.”

Pro-Russian protests that disrupted yesterday a visit by a UN envoy to the eastern city of Donetsk were conducted by paid demonstrators or agent provocateurs from across the border in Russia, according to Poroshenko. They lacked the organic spirit of the rebellion in Kiev, he said.

Orobets also speaks with awe at the bravery she witnessed in the street battles in Kiev to oust Yanukovych.

“People were using shields against bullets,” she told “I saw such unexplainable acts of heroism. Ukrainians showed they are very brave. There were babushkas breaking up stones for the fighters to use. For four days, they fought with such ferocity.”

And she is proud of the role she played.

“I had my own experiences with men training their automatic weapons on me because I was negotiating the capitulation of Berkut (riot police) units -- me as a woman, that was my job; that was my task,” she said.

Orobets' devotion to her homeland and to politics is in her blood. Her father, Yuriy Orobets, a Ukrainian politician who also took on political corruption, died in 2006 in strange circumstances in what officials claimed was the result of a car crash and a heart attack. Her father, who she worked for, had forewarned her of a possible “accident.”  She was elected to Ukraine’s parliament the following year.

Last June her husband, an investment banker, fled to the United States after threats and the start of a probe into dubious and likely politically motivated claims of tax evasion. She also later sent her daughters, ages 3 and 5, out of the country as the revolution developed. 

Like other Ukrainian politicians, Orobets fears that Putin will try to keep Crimea and to mount a variety of destabilization efforts in eastern Ukraine.  And the West must help Ukraine to see that doesn’t happen, she said, adding: “We do not believe any word Putin says.”

“The nuclear state Russia has declared war on us and there is no government in the world ready for a war with Russia. We can’t win a war with Russia. What we can do is win the war in a diplomatic and informational sense.”

Already tipped as a future national leader, the self-assured Orobets says it isn’t uppermost in her mind that she may one day follow Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s first female prime minister, who was released from jail earlier this month and may run in May as a presidential candidate.

She doesn’t cite Tymoshenko, the leader of the party she belongs to, as a role model, though. Her exemplar is the late Israeli leader Golda Meir. “You know, she was born in Kiev. She helped create her country.”