As an informal leader of the Ukrainian opposition coalition, he was one of the two main candidates in the October–November 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. Yushchenko won the election through a revote of the runoff between him and Viktor Yanukovych, the government supported candidate. The Ukrainian Supreme Court called for the revote due to widespread election fraud in favor of Viktor Yanukovych in the original run-off. Yushchenko won in the revote (52% to 44%). Public protests prompted by the electoral fraud played a major role in that presidential election and led to Ukraine's Orange Revolution.
Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko was born on February 23, 1954 in Khoruzhivka, Sumy Oblast, Ukrainian SSR, into a family of teachers. His father, Andriy Andriyovych Yushchenko (1919-1992), fought in the Second World War, where German forces captured and placed him in numerous concentration camps throughout Poland and Germany, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp as a POW. He survived the ordeal. After returning home, Andriy Yushchenko taught English at a local school. Viktor's mother, Varvara Tymofiyovna Yushchenko (1918-2005), taught physics and mathematics at the same school.
Viktor Yushchenko graduated from the Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute, and began his profession as an accountant. After completing his studies (1975), he worked as a deputy to the chief accountant in a kolkhoz, then served as a conscript in the Border Guard unit of KGB on the Soviet–Turkish border (1975-1976).
Yushchenko started a career in banking in 1976. In 1983, he became the Deputy Director for Agricultural Credit at the Ukrainian Republican Office of the USSR State Bank. From 1990 to 1993, he worked as vice-chairman and first vice-chairman of the JSC Agroindustrial Bank Ukraina. In 1993, Yushchenko was appointed Chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine (Ukraine's central bank). In 1997, Ukraine's parliament re-appointed him as the bank's head.
As a central banker, Yushchenko played an important part in the creation of Ukraine's national currency, the hryvnia, and the establishment of a modern regulatory system for commercial banking. He also successfully overcame a debilitating wave of hyper-inflation that hit the country -- he brought inflation down from more than 10,000 percent to less than 10 percent -- and managed to defend the value of the currency following the 1998 Russian financial crisis.
In 1998, he wrote a thesis entitled "The Development of Supply and Demand of Money in Ukraine" and defended it in the Ukrainian Academy of Banking. He thereby earned a doctorate in economics.
In December 1999, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma unexpectedly nominated Yushchenko to be the prime minister after the parliament failed to ratify, by one vote, the previous candidate, Valeriy Pustovoytenko.
Ukraine's economy improved during Yushchenko's cabinet service. Soon, his government (particularly, deputy prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko) became embroiled in a confrontation with influential leaders of the coal mining and natural gas industries. The conflict resulted in a 2001 no-confidence vote by the parliament, orchestrated by the Communists, which had opposed Yushchenko's economic policies, and by centrist groups associated with the country's powerful "oligarchs". The vote passed 263 to 69 and resulted in Yushchenko's removal from office.
Many Ukrainians viewed the fall of Yushchenko's government with dismay, and they gathered four million votes on a petition supporting him and opposing the parliamentary vote. Supporters also organized a 10,000-strong demonstration in Kiev, the country's capital. Yushchenko gave a moving speech before the crowd, vowing one day to return.
In 2002, Yushchenko became the leader of the Our Ukraine (Nasha Ukrayina) political coalition, which received a plurality of seats in the year's election to Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) . However, the number of seats won wasn't enough for a majority, and the efforts to form it together with other opposition parties failed. Since then, Yushchenko has remained the leader and public face of the "Our Ukraine" ("Nasha Ukrayina") parliament faction.
Yushchenko was widely regarded as the moderate political leader of the anti-Kuchma opposition, since other opposition parties were less influential and had fewer seats in parliament.
Since the end of his term as prime minister, Yushchenko has become a charismatic political figure popular among Ukrainians in the western and central regions of the country. As of 2001–2004, his rankings in popularity polls were higher than those of the president at the time, Leonid Kuchma.
As a politician, Viktor Yushchenko is widely perceived as a mixture of Western-oriented and moderate Ukrainian nationalist. He also advocates moving Ukraine in the direction of Europe and NATO, promoting free market reforms, reforming medicine, education and the social system, preserving Ukraine's culture, rebuilding important historical monuments, and remembering Ukraine's history, including the Holodomor famine-genocide of 1932-33. His opponents (and allies) sometimes criticize him for indecision and secrecy, while advocates call the same attributes signs of Yushchenko's commitment to teamwork, consensus, and negotiation. He is also often accused of being unable to form a unified team free of inner quarrels.
Since becoming the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko has been an honorary leader of "Our Ukraine" party. In the latest parliament election in March 2006, the party, led by Prime Minister Yekhanurov received less than 14% of the national vote and took third place behind the Party of Regions, and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. In 2008 Viktor Yushchenko popularity has plunged even lower to less of 10 %
In 2004, as President Kuchma's term came to an end, Yushchenko announced that he was an independent candidate for president. His major rival was Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Since his term as prime minister, Yushchenko had slightly modernized his political platform, adding social partnership and other liberal slogans to older ideas of European integration, including Ukraine's joining NATO, and fighting corruption. Supporters of Yushchenko were organized in the "Syla Narodu" ("Power to the People") electoral coalition, which he and his political allies led, with the Our Ukraine coalition as the main constituent force.
Yushchenko built his campaign on face-to-face communication with voters, since the government prevented most major TV channels from providing equal coverage to candidates. Meanwhile, his rival, Yanukovych, frequently appeared in the news and even accused Yushchenko, whose father was a Red Army soldier imprisoned at Auschwitz, of being "a Nazi".
The campaign was often bitter and violent. Yushchenko became seriously ill in early September 2004. He was flown to Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus clinic for treatment and diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, accompanied by interstitial edematous changes, due to a serious viral infection and chemical substances that are not normally found in food products. Yushchenko claimed such poisoning to be the work of government agents. After the illness, his face became heavily disfigured: grossly jaundiced, bloated, and pockmarked.
British toxicologist Professor John Henry of St Mary's Hospital in London declared the changes in Yushchenko's face were due to chloracne, which can be the result of dioxin poisoning. Dutch toxicologist Bram Brouwer found levels of dioxin in Yushchenko's blood that were 6,000 times above normal and also stated his changes in appearance to be the result of chloracne.
On December 11, Dr. Michael Zimpfer of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic declared that Yushchenko had eaten or drunk TCDD dioxin and had 1,000 times the usual concentration in his body. Not all in the medical community agreed with this diagnosis, including the Rudolfinerhaus clinic's own chief medical director, Dr. Lothar Wicke. Wicke stated there was no evidence of poisoning and claimed to have been forced to resign due to his disagreement. Wicke also claimed to have been threatened by Yushchenko's associates. Wicke's claims led some to question the truthfulness and motives of Yushchenko.
Many have linked Yushchenko's poisoning to a dinner with a group of senior Ukrainian officials. In connection to this, theories of links to the Russian FSB have also arisen.
Since 2005, Yushchenko has been treated by a team of doctors led by Professor Jean Saurat at the University of Geneva Hospital. Saurat has recently published academic papers on the metabolism of dioxin in the human body.
In June 2008, David Zhvania, a former political ally of Yushchenko and an ex-minister in the cabinet of Yulia Tymoshenko, claimed in an interview with BBC that Yushchenko had not been poisoned in 2004 and that laboratory results in the case had been falsified.
The initial vote, held on October 31, 2004, saw Yushchenko obtaining 39.87% in front of Yanukovych with 39.32%. As no candidate reached the 50% margin required for outright victory, a second round of run-off voting was held on November 21, 2004. Although a 75% voter turnout was recorded, observers reported many irregularities and abuses across the country, such as organized multiple voting and extra votes for Yanukovych after the polls closed. Exit poll results put Yushchenko ahead in the western and central provinces of the country.
The alleged electoral fraud, combined with the fact that the exit polls recorded a result (an 11% margin of victory for Yushchenko in one poll) so radically different from the final vote tally (a 3% margin of victory for Yanukovych), prompted Yushchenko and his supporters to refuse to recognize the results.
After thirteen days of massive popular protests in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, that became known as the Orange Revolution, the election results were overturned by the Supreme Court and a re-run of the run-off election was ordered for December 26. Yushchenko proclaimed a victory for the opposition and declared his confidence that he would be elected with at least 60% of the vote. He did win the third round, but with 52% of the vote.
The first 100 days of Yushchenko's term, January 23, 2005, through May 1, 2005, were marked by numerous dismissals and appointments at all levels of the executive branch. Yulia Tymoshenko was ratified by the Verkhovna Rada as the Prime Minister. Oleksandr Zinchenko was appointed the head of the presidential secretariat with a nominal title of the Secretary of State. Petro Poroshenko, a cutthroat competitor of Tymoshenko for the post of the Prime Minister, was appointed the Secretary of the Security and Defense Council.
In August 2005, Yushchenko joined with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in signing the Borjomi Declaration, which called for the creation of an institution of international cooperation, The Community of Democratic Choice, to bring together the democracies and incipient democracies in the region around the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas. The first meeting of presidents and leaders to discuss the CDC took place on December 1-2, 2005 in Kiev.
On September 9, acting Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov tried to form a new government. On September 22, Mr. Yekhanurov was ratified by the parliament on second attempt (289 ayes). In the first attempt (September 20), Mr. Yekhanurov fell short of 3 votes (223 ayes, 226 needed).
Also in September, former president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk accused exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky of financing Yushchenko's presidential election campaign, and provided copies of documents showing money transfers from companies he said are controlled by Berezovsky to companies controlled by Yushchenko's official backers. Berezovsky has confirmed that he met Yushchenko's representatives in London before the election, and that the money was transferred from his companies, but he refused to confirm or deny that the companies that received the money were used in Yushchenko's campaign. Financing of election campaigns by foreign citizens is illegal in Ukraine.
In August 2006, he appointed his onetime opponent in the presidential race, Viktor Yanukovych, to be the new Prime Minister. This was generally regarded as synonymous with a move by Ukraine back into the Russian fold.
Yushchenko is married to Kateryna Yushchenko-Chumachenko (his second wife). She is a Ukrainian-American born in Chicago who received a degree in Economics from Georgetown University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. She also studied at the Ukrainian Institute at Harvard University. Her resume includes working at the Ukrainian Congress Committeee of America, the Bureau for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, the Reagan White House, US Treasury Department and Joint Economic Committee of Congress. In Ukraine she first worked with the US-Ukraine Foundation, then as Country Director for KPMG Barents Group.
Kateryna Yushchenko heads up the Ukraine 3000 Foundation, which emphasizes promoting civil society, particularly charity and corporate resposibiltiy. The Foundation implements programs in the areas of children's health, integrating the disabled, improving education, supporting culture and the arts, publishing books, researching history and particularly Ukraine's famine genocide of 1932-33. From 1995 to 2005, she worked closely with "Pryately Ditey" an organization that helps Ukrainian orphans.
Criticized for her US citizenship by her husband's opponents, Kateryna became a Ukrainian citizen on March 2005, and renounced her US citizenship, as required by Ukrainian law, in March 2007. During the 2004 election campaign, Kateryna was accused of exerting the influence of the U.S. government on her husband's decisions, as an employee of the U.S. government or even a CIA agent. A Russian state television journalist had earlier accused her of leading a U.S. project to help Yushchenko seize power in Ukraine; in January 2002, she won a libel case against that journalist. Ukraine's then anti-Yushchenko Inter TV channel repeated the allegations in 2001, but in January 2003 she won a libel case against that channel as well.
Yushchenko has five children and two grandchildren: sons Andriy (1985) and Taras (2004), daughters Vitalina (1980), Sophia (1999) and Chrystyna (2000), grandchildren Domenika (2000) and Victor (2005). A practicing member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Yushchenko often emphasizes the deep role of his religious convictions in his life and worldview.
His main hobbies are Ukrainian traditional culture (including art, ceramics, wood working and archaeology), mountain climbing and beekeeping. He is keen on painting, collects antiques, objects of folk-customs and Ukrainian national clothes, and restores objects of Trypillya culture.
Each year he climbs Hoverla, Ukraine's highest mountain. After receiving a checkup in which doctors determined he was healthy despite the previous year's dioxin poisoning, he successfully climbed the mountain again on July 16, 2005.