PRAGUE, August 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The sight of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's pockmarked face on national television ensured that the October 2004 presidential election wasn't going to be a normal affair.
Yushchenko's disfigurement -- which he said was an attempt to kill him by poisoning -- was a stark symbol of a dirty campaign.
Overturning A Flawed Poll
International observers said the election's first round on October 31 was flawed, with the opposition accusing the government of using tricks and intimidation to help Yanukovych.
Then the Supreme Court ruled that the November 21 runoff -- in which Yanukovych claimed victory -- was equally tainted.
A photo gallery of political developments in Ukraine since the March 26 elections (Flash required)
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Thousands took to the streets claiming Yanukovych had stolen the election. The mass protests in Kyiv and other cities around Ukraine in support of Yushchenko were soon dubbed the Orange Revolution, after the color of his Our Ukraine party.
The real star of the show was Yuliya Tymoshenko, whose charisma and rousing rhetoric inspired those camped out on Kyiv's main square.
"You have kindled a flame of hope for all CIS countries that do not yet have democratic systems," she shouted to the crowds. "Today, hope rests on you, not only in Ukraine but throughout the whole world."
The popular momentum translated into votes for Yushchenko. He won the December election rerun. In January 2005, he was sworn in as president.
The Party's Over
With the tent camps packed up and the New Year's hangovers subsiding, Yushchenko faced the hard task of forming a government.
Tymoshenko was the obvious and popular choice for prime minister. In early February, she was confirmed as the country's next premier. She told assembled lawmakers the trust they had given her was "the highest value" in her life.
But six months later, the enthusiasm had become disappointment.
The cracks began to show. Orange allies Yushchenko and Tymoshenko bickered publicly about the scale of reprivatization in Ukraine.
Oft-promised reforms failed to materialize. And for the average Ukrainian, the cost of living and inflation were rising.
The Moment Of Crisis
In September, the bickering hit a crisis point. Yushchenko's former chief of staff, Oleksandr Zinchenko, resigned, accusing several senior government officials of corruption.
The new administration, he said, was "even worse" than that of former President Leonid Kuchma.
"Having organized an information blockade around the president, having taken him to a virtual, unreal world, cynically distorting reality and true accents of life, they are step by step carrying out their plan to maximally use government posts in order to increase their own capital, to privatize and get into their hands everything they can," Zinchenko said. "Their goal is a monopoly on key government functions."
A few days later, Yushchenko sacked Tymoshenko's government.
"I must say to my fellow citizens that I must take radical steps to change the leadership of the government, the National Security Council, and the presidential secretariat," Yushchenko said. "I repeat, from now on I want to see top government institutions working as one team."
A Gas Attack
It was to be a long winter.
Russia and Ukraine became embroiled in a dispute over gas. Russia wanted Ukraine to pay market rates, which would mean Kyiv paying more than triple the price it was paying.
Moscow says its motivations were purely economic, while Ukraine highlighted political factors, saying Moscow was punishing it for its pro-Western stance.
Hopes for a last-minute resolution were dashed when Ukraine on December 31 rejected an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to postpone the price increases if Ukraine agreed to new terms.
A day later Russia drastically reduced its supply to Ukraine. Eduard Zanyuk, a spokesman for Ukraine's natural gas company Naftohaz, announced gas supplies to Ukraine and beyond to Central and Western Europe had been drastically reduced.
Three days later, the two sides hatched a deal.
It involved a complex price scheme under which Gazprom sells gas to a shadowy company known as RosUkrEnergo at a rate of $230 per 1,000 cubic meters -- more than four times the original price.
The ousted Tymoshenko was sharply critical of the deal, saying Yushchenko had knowingly cheated the Ukrainian people.
As the president's popularity plummeted, Yanukovych bounced back from his Orange Revolution disgrace.
Facing The Electorate On More Time
In the run-up to the March 26 parliamentary elections, he seemed poised to make a solid showing at the polls.
"The Party of Regions is ready to lead the country. We will introduce the Russian language as the second official language in Ukraine," his party's television ads promised. "We will lower the income tax. It is high time to end incompetence. Together we will win for the sake of Ukraine."
With confidence in the ideals of the Orange Revolution shaken, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc found itself battling against both Yanukovych's Party of Regions and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc in the March legislative elections.
The results that emerged from that poll were dispiriting for Yushchenko. Yanukovych's pro-Russian Party of Regions came out with the largest block of seats, followed by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.
The Coalition Scramble
However, no party held a majority, setting off a scramble to build a coalition. Yushchenko held talks with all parties, while Tymoshenko from the beginning ruled out any coalition with Yanukovych.
After months of wrangling, a so-called Orange coalition was formed, comprising the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Our Ukraine Bloc, and the Socialist Party.
The Party of Regions, left out in the cold despite having the largest block of seats, began protesting and preventing the legislature from meeting. For two weeks, the legislature was largely at a standstill, with the fate of the Orange coalition in doubt.
Then, on July 6, the deal fell apart, with the Socialists abandoning the Orange coalition. After weeks of deadlock, parliament voted to make the party's head Oleksandr Moroz its speaker.
"We must reduce this tension that has been artificially created," Moroz told lawmakers. "We must end the split we now see in Ukraine. I'm sure we can overcome this problem. I'm even more sure that we can bring together those who see themselves as the victors and those who see themselves as the vanquished."
Moroz's Socialists joined the Party of Regions and the Communist Party. The three parties announced the formation of an "anti-crisis" coalition, spelling the death of the Orange coalition.
With the defection of the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine were thrown on the defensive. While Our Ukraine formally accepted the new coalition and declared itself in the opposition on July 18, Tymoshenko urged Yushchenko to dissolve the legislature and call new elections.
"Our political force reserves the right to insist on early elections, first of all because there are political grounds for that as the majority [in parliament] is not based on the majority of the Ukrainian people, secondly, because the Verkhovna Rada has been compromised, and thirdly, no matter what kind of unity [agreement] we might sign, it is obvious that there is no unity because these [political] forces are absolutely different."
Yushchenko continued his efforts to broker a compromise, meeting almost daily with leaders of parliament as an August 2 deadline for either agreeing to the new coalition or dissolving parliament loomed.
Finally, on August 3, a breakthrough.
Speaking on national television just hours after the midnight deadline had passed, Yushchenko said he had taken the decision to put forward Viktor Yanukovych for the post of Ukraine's prime minister.
"I want to once again stress that I understand the whole complexity in the east and the west of Ukraine, regarding this nomination for the post of prime minister," Yushchenko said. "I call on the country to understand that today we have a unique chance to realize all that we talked about, and to bring the country together for a political understanding."
In Kyiv, however, many people were less than understanding.
Residents of the capital city were among Yushchenko's strongest supporters during the Orange Revolution. Now people say they are angry with the president's failure to sustain the spirit of those times.
"We are totally disillusioned. He is a typical Judas," one woman said. "Yushchenko betrayed us, he should be ashamed of himself. Such a wonderful people and he decides to go with Yanukovych. The entire bunch should go to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We did not stand here on behalf of a military junta or for gangsters. We do not have anything in common with the mafia, and we never will."
(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)
Referendum On The Revolution
Yushchenko supporters attend a rally in Kyiv on December 26-27, 2005
RETHINKING THE ORANGE: The March 26 elections are the first major national referendum on President Viktor Yushchenko and the ideals of the Orange Revolution that brought him to power in early 2005. Opinion polls in Ukraine indicate widespread dissatisfaction with developments in the country since Yushchenko took power. The results of the elections are expected to clarify whether Yushchenko will be able to step up the implementation of his reformist policies declared during the 2004 Orange Revolution or whether he will get mired even deeper in political wrangling with his opponents...(more)
Click on the image to view a photo gallery of some of the key players in the Ukrainian elections.