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'We Need To Cure Ukraine:' Maidan Doctor Aims For Presidency

Ukrainian doctor Olha Bohomolets is also a popular singer of Ukrainian ballads, an art collector, a philanthropist.
Ukrainian doctor Olha Bohomolets is also a popular singer of Ukrainian ballads, an art collector, a philanthropist.
KYIV -- Prominent Ukrainian doctor Olha Bohomolets says her country is "gravely sick."

And she's determined to nurse it back to health.

Bohomolets, who spent months treating injured antigovernment protesters in Kyiv, is running for president in Ukraine's May 25 election with pledges to root out corruption and boost government transparency.

"Today, we have a very powerful external enemy," she told RFE/RL. "But we also have an internal enemy that is just as powerful. Its name is 'corruption.' We need to resuscitate and cure Ukraine."

Bohomolets, 48, says the government born out of the Euromaidan protests is not living up to the expectations of ordinary Ukrainians who helped oust Viktor Yanukovych from power.

The provisional government, she charges, is "not willing" to crack down on corrupt officials and end the political wheeling-and-dealing that sparked the mass protests against Yanukovych's rule.

As president, Bohomolets vows to dramatically bolster the role of civic society in making officials more accountable:

"If I become president, my mission will be to give civil society levers to influence authorities," she said. "Today, the only levers we have are Molotov cocktails and cobble stones. There are no alternatives."

As many as 46 candidates have registered for the presidential race, including pro-Euromaidan oligarch Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Ukraine's Election Commission has until April 4 to rule on the validity of the bids.

Polls show Poroshenko as the clear frontrunner with about 25 percent of projected votes.

Many Admirers

Bohomolets, while not topping the polls, wields considerable popularity in Ukraine.

She has turned down two offers to join the country's new unity government, first as health minister and then as deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs.

Bohomolets says the government refused to accept her conditions -- bringing in her own team, conducting a thorough audit of the ministry, and adopting EU standards of transparency.

When she announced her intention to run for president last week and called for donations to cover her $220,000 registration fee, supporters raised the sum in just two days.

A top dermatologist who once served as the physician for Orange Revolution leader and former president Viktor Yushchenko, she comes from a long line of doctors. One of the country's leading medical schools is actually named after her great-grandfather.

Bohomolets is also a popular singer of Ukrainian ballads, an art collector, a philanthropist, and the founder of a cultural complex in northern Ukraine.

Her decision to set up a free, round-the-clock medical service for antigovernment protesters in Kyiv has earned her many admirers as well as the nickname of Euromaidan's "white angel."

On February 20, as the Euromaidan protests descended into bloodshed, she personally tended to dozens of wounded demonstrators at the makeshift hospital hastily deployed in Kyiv's Hotel Ukraine.

That day, images of Bohomolets voicing her grief and anger as she stood among rows of corpses were broadcast around the world.

And five weeks later, she is still angry.

She accuses the current leadership of dragging its feet on investigating the deaths, which she blames squarely on snipers.

"We still don't know the names of the snipers, we still don't know who ordered them to shoot," she said. "Investigators have not provided the Ukrainian people with any results. The people in charge of this issue are either totally incompetent, either have no will, or want to cover up what really happened in the government."

Earlier this month, Bohomolets was referred to in a leaked phone call between EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet in which the pair discussed rumors that the snipers may have been hired by Euromaidan leaders.

Seeking The Truth

Bohomolets quickly denied telling Paet that policemen and protesters were killed by the same snipers, saying she had treated only demonstrators.

She says only a thorough investigation can help establish the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice.

But, according to her, authorities are refusing to release details of the autopsies conducted on the victims.

Investigators, she said, have yet to question Euromaidan medics.

"They didn't contact a single medical worker, they didn't question us as witnesses," she said. "I testified for international rights groups and stated that snipers shot at people, at absolutely peaceful protesters. They shot and aimed for their hearts, their coronary arteries, their eyes, and their brains, giving medics no chance to save the wounded. This is why I think this must be investigated, we must know who and where our enemies are."

Government figures put the death toll from the riots at just over 100 people, most of them protesters.

Thousands have been injured and more than 200 people are still missing.

"People clearly understand that if we don't change the entire system now, instead of simply changing the faces of those in power, then it will mean that these people were killed, wounded, and went missing for nothing," Bohomolets said.
Tetyana Yarmoshchuk reported from Kyiv. Claire Bigg reported and wrote from Prague

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