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Tymoshenko's Strange Week In Jail

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for alleged abuse of power.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for alleged abuse of power.

It's been a trying week for jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

First, two of her former cellmates publicly accused her of faking health problems and having an affair with her lawyer.

Then, in a new twist worthy of a spy movie, prison officials raided her hospital ward in the city of Kharkiv and confiscated devices that she says revealed unusually high radiation levels in her room.

The 51-year-old Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, had hidden the Geiger counters inside a cache carved out in a hardback copy of Ukraine's Criminal Code.

"This search was carried out with a single goal," Tymoshenko's lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko told RFE/RL. "To seize the devices, which have revealed high radiation levels over a certain period of time in Yulia Tymoshenko's quarters."

Vlasenko said there were no rules banning the possession of such devices and denied that medicine kept by Tymoshenko in breach of prison regulations had been seized during the search.

The confiscation prompted Tymoshenko to accuse her political foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, of using Stalinist measures against her.

"Only he is capable now of taking special measures against my health and my life," she wrote on the website of her party, Batkivshchyna.

"A search worthy of the best traditions of 1937 was carried out in my ward," she said, referring to the purges carried out under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

She said she had planned to go public with the alleged high radiation levels in her hospital quarters.

Tymoshenko is currently serving a seven-year sentence stemming from a conviction for abuse of power. That and other cases against her have prompted scorn in the West and damaged Ukrainian hopes of joining the European Union.

Tymoshenko has dismissed all criminal charges against her as political revenge from Yanukovych, whose 2004 bid for the presidency was scuppered by the Orange Revolution that Tymoshenko helped lead and who narrowly beat her for the presidency in February 2010.

Polls show her Batkivshchyna party close behind Yanukovych's Party of Regions in the run-up to parliamentary elections slated for October 28.

Cellmates' Accusations

The incident with the Geiger counters comes as Tymoshenko is battling damaging accusations by two former cellmates.

Inmate Yulia Abaplova claimed earlier this week that the former prime minister was faking back problems that have allowed her to postpone a trial on fresh charges of embezzlement and tax evasion.

Following her interview with the news website UNN, which is seen as close to Yanukovych, Abaplova reiterated her allegations on September 13 in a video news briefing from jail.

"She used to ask me to help her get up," Abaplova said. "But sometimes there were situations where, in forgetfulness, she would get up and take a few steps."

Another former cellmate, Oksana Melnik, also took part in the briefing.

She said allies of the opposition leader had been pressuring her family to deter her from revealing the truth about her health.

She also suggested that Tymoshenko and Vlasenko, her lawyer, were lovers.

"Once, I inadvertently witnessed their meeting," Melnik said. "They were communicating quite closely, let's say. Their relationship was like between a man and a woman. The way they hugged and kissed, old friends don't behave that way."

Tymoshenko's camp insists the women were coerced into making the accusations.

A letter by Abaplova was published on the former premier's website this week in which the inmate says an "active campaign of discrimination" was being waged against Tymoshenko.

Abaplova now claims Tymoshenko forced her to write the letter.

The claims leveled against Tymoshenko this week are not new.

In April, a grainy video purportedly showing her moving lightly in her cell and in a romantic embrace with her lawyer was broadcast on national television.

Tymoshenko and her lawyers immediately rejected the footage as fake.

On September 14, European Union officials warned Ukraine that it could not integrate with the EU as long as Tymoshenko remains in jail. Yanukovych, speaking at a conference attended by EU officials earlier in the day, insisted the October parliamentary elections would allay EU concerns about Ukraine's democratic course and clear the way for the "full integration" of the two sides.

The 27-nation block put on hold negotiations with Kyiv on political association and free trade after Tymoshenko's sentencing in October.
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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to​


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