PRAGUE -- Oleksandr Tymoshenko, the husband of imprisoned former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has called on world leaders to protect his wife from what he says are the government's efforts to "destroy" her.
In one of his first interviews since being granted asylum in the Czech Republic on January 6, Oleksandr Tymoshenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that the government of President Viktor Yanukovych "does not need Yulia Tymoshenko alive."
"Now they try to physically destroy her by not providing her with qualified medical care. Even during such a big holiday as Christmas, they continue to spread lies that they give her medical examinations," he said. "I call on the whole world to understand that the Yanukovych regime does not need Yulia Tymoshenko alive. I call on the world leaders to protect my wife from Yanukovych's regime."
Yulia Tymoshenko, a two-term prime minister and the heroine of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, is in the early months of a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office concerning a 2009 gas deal with Russia. She has denied any wrongdoing.
A longtime foe of Yanukovych, she was narrowly defeated by him in the 2010 presidential election, and her Batkivshyna (Fatherland) party is poised to mount a challenge to the ruling Party of Regions.
Tymoshenko's conviction on October 11 prompted an outcry from supporters, who have since alleged that she is in ill health and facing torturous conditions
, including 24-hour bright lights in her cell in a penal colony in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
Her lawyers have filed a case against Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights.
Ukraine's State Penitentiary System has said the former prime minister's cell "meets all European requirements and standards of detention."
Tymoshenko's case has been met with condemnation from both Brussels and Washington, where officials say it is politically motivated.
The signing of a landmark cooperation agreement between the European Union and Ukraine has been stalled, with European leaders conditioning progress in part on Tymoshenko's case.
Yanukovych, meanwhile, says he has not exerted pressure on judicial proceedings in the case and says it is up to the courts to decide the former prime minister's fate.
'Mutually Exclusive Notions'
In Prague, Oleksandr Tymoshenko said the West should do more. "I call on the European countries to impose sanctions against the authorities and their families, in particular the sons of Yanukovych, the top authorities in the Prosecutor-General's Office, the SBU [security service], judges, and investigators who facilitated the falsification of Yulia Tymoshenko's case," he said.
"World leaders have to finally understand that Yanukovych and democracy are mutually exclusive notions," he added. "A twice-convicted former criminal is forming a totalitarian regime in Ukraine."
Oleksandr Tymoshenko, who, like his wife, is 51, told RFE/RL that he sought asylum in part because he believed that leaving Ukraine would deprive the government of a way to pressure his wife.
"I was forced to leave Ukraine and ask for political asylum in the Czech Republic because of the unprecedented pressure by the authoritarian regime of President Yanukovych," he said. "The authorities do not shy away from any dirty methods. They were not successful in breaking Yulia Tymoshenko by intimidation, courts, imprisonment, or torture. Therefore, they used even dirtier tricks. They started to persecute me and other members of her family.
"I do not want to give them more leverage to use against the leader of the opposition. For me, political asylum is the only way to reach this goal."
Severed Business Ties
Oleksandr Tymoshenko has been named as a defendant in recently revived criminal cases involving United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a company he and his wife led in the 1990s. He was charged and held in custody in relation to one of those cases in 2000, but was never convicted.
Citing official pressure, Oleksandr Tymoshenko has severed most of his Ukrainian business ties. Among other current interests, he holds a stake in the Czech-based firm International Industrial Projects.
He told RFE/RL that he and supporters of his wife planned to establish an NGO in the Czech Republic to monitor and publicize human rights abuses in Ukraine. He said the organization would be called Batkivshyna -- the same name as his wife's political party -- and would be headed by Yevhenia Tymoshenko, the couple's daughter.
Yevhenia Tymoshenko remains in Ukraine, where she has advocated vocally on her mother's behalf.
Read the full interview with Oleksandr Tymoshenko in Ukrainian here
written by Richard Solash, based on an interview conducted by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service