Tymoshenko: glamorous, divisive, imprisoned
KIEV, Ukraine – Yulia Tymoshenko became a world icon of democratic change during Ukraine's Orange Revolution protests of 2004, a riveting figure both for her ringing denunciations of election fraud and the distinctive golden braid she wrapped around her head.
She was more exciting to protesters than her Orange Revolution partner Viktor Yushchenko, who claimed he had been robbed of victory in presidential elections. Tymoshenko became prime minister when Yushchenko won a court-ordered election rerun.
The facade of unity soon cracked and the two leaders quarreled incessantly. Yushchenko fired her after nine months, but she returned to the premiership in 2007. The tensions between them virtually paralyzed the government.
In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych rode a wave of voter discontent to narrowly beat Tymoshenko for the presidency. He was the very man the Orange Revolution accused of trying to steal power from Yushchenko.
Tymoshenko's troubles were only beginning.
In 2011, she was arrested and charged with abusing power as premier in a natural gas deal with Russia. Tymoshenko said the proceedings were naked revenge, and Western governments voiced concern about a politically motivated prosecution.
International criticism of Ukraine grew after she was convicted and sent to prison.
In jail, the 51-year-old Tymoshenko has suffered chronic back pain, but refuses treatment in a Ukrainian clinic because she claims she could be mistreated more severely. Last week, she began a hunger strike after claiming guards abused her when taking her to a hospital against her will.
Even before achieving global fame, Tymoshenko was a vivid figure in Ukraine. She and her husband took early advantage of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms by creating a popular video rental business.
They later founded a fuel distribution company and she went on to become head of Unified Energy Systems, a natural gas middleman.
In that post, she became one of Ukraine's richest and most powerful oligarchs — dubbed "The Gas Princess."
She is now on trial for allegedly evading millions of dollars in taxes while heading UES.