AP Interview: Tymoshenko's daughter champions mom
KIEV, Ukraine – Even after she was thrown in jail, crippled by back pain and abandoned by allies, imprisoned former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko didn't despair: She had her daughter by her side.
Eugenia Tymoshenko has met her destiny in championing the cause of her mother, who is serving seven years in prison in conditions that have severely damaged her health. The younger Tymoshenko has been abruptly thrust into the Ukrainian political scene and international diplomacy — with such success that some see her as a possible new face of the opposition.
Soft-spoken but eloquent, and sharing her mother's telegenic looks, the 32-year-old Eugenia has addressed U.S. senators and European Union lawmakers and pleaded with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to push Ukraine for her mother's release.
But she adamantly denies any plans to enter politics or run in October parliamentary elections, which will test the pro-Western opposition's chances against the party of President Viktor Yanukovych — Tymoshenko's archenemy.
"Any speculation about me having political ambition is not correct," Tymoshenko told the Associated Press in her mother's office in central Kiev. "I am my own person, I have my own interest and activities."
"My mission is only as a daughter," said Tymoshenko, clad in a lacy white shirt and black cardigan, her long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, in contrast to her mother's famous braids. "I am trying to get as many messages (out) of the true situation, of what is going on now with my mother."
"She is the only one who can take our country out of this totalitarian abyss and we are just hoping for that," Tymoshenko said. "And (as) for me — I just want to stay out of this."
After studying political science at the London School of Economics, Tymoshenko opened an Italian restaurant in Kiev and ran a children's charity. Tymoshenko is married to British rock musician Sean Carr, but the two are rarely seen in public and Tymoshenko refuses to discuss her personal life.
Tymoshenko says she has always feared the public eye and has her mother advise her from her jail cell before embarking on her diplomatic missions.
"I am scared to death talking in public and being in public, I've never been brought up like this," Tymoshenko said. "But this is something I realize I have to do no matter what."
While talking to Clinton and Merkel was nerve-racking, Tymoshenko says she was overwhelmed by their support for her mother, who was jailed on charges of corruption in an energy deal with Russia, a case the West has condemned as politically motivated.
"Women leaders — they feel, I think, special solidarity with her as a woman politician, because of the conditions she is in," Tymoshenko said. "Of course, they have daughters and children of their own and they know how it feels and their words are always of support."
As part of her legal defense team, Tymoshenko has enjoyed unique access to her mother, first in a Kiev detention center and now in a remote jail in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
Tymoshenko was moved to a Kharkiv hospital on Wednesday to be treated for a severe spinal condition that has rendered her partially paralyzed and in constant pain. After strong Western pressure, a German neurologist was allowed to supervise Tymoshenko's treatment because she does not trust government-controlled doctors.
Tymoshenko is now recovering from a nearly three-week-long hunger strike she launched on April 27 to protest an alleged beating by prison guards. She looks emaciated and weak, having lost nearly 10 kilograms (22 pounds). She can only walk with walking aids and is under constant video monitoring, even when she showers, Eugenia said.
Eugenia admits wishing that her mother would stop her political activity to stay free and healthy, but realizes now that she could not give up. Tymoshenko's husband Oleksandr fled to Prague after authorities also targeted him in an investigation after Tymoshenko was imprisoned. But that was not Tymoshenko's path, her daughter said.
"It's something you cannot take away from her it's her life, so for her even now the opportunity to escape ... is unacceptable," Eugenia Tymoshenko said.