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Ukraine: Pro-Democracy Demonstrators Look To Yushchenko To Answer Their Prayers

Yushchenko supporters in Iraq Ukrainian's pro-democracy movement is centered around the personality of one man -- charismatic presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. People shout his name at rallies, and his picture can be seen everywhere in the capital, Kyiv -- on cars, trees, coats, and hats. Is Ukraine's opposition movement only about one man?

Kyiv, 8 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine are campaigning to topple what they regard as the corrupt and authoritarian administration of President Leonid Kuchma, and his hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. But opposition rallies are noticeably devoid of slogans such as "We Want Democracy and Freedom!" or "Down With Corruption!"

Instead, the name of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko is simply chanted, repeated as a sort of prayer.

Do opposition supporters really believe one man can perform miracles?

Nelya Yerzhakovskaya is a middle-aged woman from the central city of Kirovohrad. She says the question is meaningless because Yushchenko has accomplished so much already.

"He has already changed things in the country, in all of Ukraine, even in Europe. All of Europe is looking at us. The point is that the people have stopped feeling like animals, which is what the authorities were making us feel," Yerzhakovskaya says.

Yerzhakovskaya says she has a family business but cannot afford to continue because of the bribes she is forced to pay local officials.

She says Yushchenko is telling Ukrainians that they are the real rulers of their country, that they can vote and that their votes will be heard.

Mykola, from the western town of Lviv, believes one man can change a lot in Ukraine.

"The main thing is Yushchenko himself. He embodies human morals. He is the real democrat. These things are the most important," Mykola says.

Asked why pro-democracy supporters chant almost nothing else other than "Yushchenko!" Mykola says it is clear without slogans that people want democracy, that Ukrainians want corruption to be stopped.

"It is evident that Yushchenko means democracy. His supporters, and the Ukrainian people, clearly understand that," Mykola says.

Mykola says people still remember Yushchenko from when he served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001. He says Yushchenko is a completely different kind of politician than Kuchma or Yanukovych.

Viacheslav Goncharov, who is from the eastern Dnepropetrovsk region, says he trusts Yushchenko because he is a known quantity. He was the head of the National Bank of Ukraine, served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001, and has proven that he knows how to implement reforms.

"During the time he was in power, almost all the time, pensions were getting higher, [Ukraine] paid its international debts, which had accumulated during seven years. And to top it off, this man is really honest. He has acted as a normal, excellent democrat. And I hope -- I hope very much -- that everything will be perfect under Yushchenko's rule," Goncharov said.

Goncharov believes a new parliament will be elected and that Yushchenko supporters will obtain a majority. He says Yushchenko's lack of appeal in the country's eastern provinces is due to the fact that residents there are not properly informed about Yushchenko's plans.

Yuriy, who is also from Kirovohrad, says the impression that Ukrainians are pinning all their hopes on one personality is wrong.

"The situation is not such that people are uniting around Yushchenko and against Yanukovych. Currently, we have a situation in which the people of Ukraine grew tired of permanent lies and falsifications. The people rebelled against lies. People have come to Kyiv, to Independence Square, not to make Yushchenko president but to make the people's will triumph," Yuriy said.

Yuriy says "Yushchenko!" is not the only slogan that can be heard in Independence Square.

"There are other slogans -- 'Down With Kuchma!' 'Put Yanukovych Behind Bars!' 'We Are Against Lies!' These are the slogans Kyiv lives with today," Yuriy says.

Yuriy says he does not believe Yushchenko, if elected, will be able to immediately change everything.

"I hope that Yushchenko will start real reforms if he comes to power. And I know that in half a year Yushchenko will not change the situation," Yuriy says. "But my hope is that a civil society is being born in the country," Yuriy says.

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