After Mayor Gianni Alemanno put up a large banner saying "Freedom for Yulia Tymoshenko" outside his office on Rome's Capitol Hill on November 26, Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes responded with a banner of his own.
On November 28, a giant banner showing former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with prison bars superimposed over his face was mounted on the Kharkiv city council building with text saying: "Hands off Berlusconi! Because of him Italy lost millions. Rome city hall, support not only Ukraine's [leader] but also your prime minister!"
Yuriy Sydorenko, the Kharkiv mayor's spokesman, said Keres "looked carefully at what happened the day before yesterday in Rome, heard the call of the mayor of Rome on the mayors of other cities to support political prisoners, and decided to support Italy's own political prisoner, ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in this way.
"The Berlusconi case was considered an economic one in court, like Tymoshenko's one was. Italy lost millions of euros, which were stolen from the taxpayer. Ukraine is also losing money on the Tymoshenko gas agreements. Tymoshenko calls her case political, just as Berlusconi calls his case political."
"We decided to call on our colleagues from the Rome mayor's office to be consistent and support not only the Ukrainian ex-prime minister, but their own ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, too.
"What's more, we think that you shouldn't meddle in Ukraine's internal affairs. You see that such cases are taking place not just with Berlusconi, but there is a criminal investigation of the [former] president of France, [Nicolas] Sarkozy. Everyone should mind their own country, and not pressure others."
Tymoshenko, who was 52 on November 27, was taken to a prison in the city of Kharkiv in December 2011 to serve her seven-year term for abuse of office in relation to a natural-gas deal with Russia, but has been receiving treatment at a hospital in the same city since May.
Tymoshenko and her supporters say the charges are politically motivated. The European Union and the United States have condemned her jailing as selective justice. She also faces trial for tax evasion and embezzlement, and prosecutors have suggested they intend to indict her for complicity to murder in the 16-year-old case of a slain parliamentarian and his wife.
Berlusconi is appealing a four-year prison sentence for tax evasion, while also still considering a political comeback in elections expected to be held in March.
-- Dan Wisniewski