Her improbable ascent to the forefront of public life marks the return of one of the most divisive figures in Ukraine's political scene. The two-time former prime minister is variously admired as an icon of democracy and reviled as a self-promoting manipulator.
Though analyasts say the odds are stacked against her, Tymoshenko is still the best known of an array of new candidates in a race left wide open by Ukraine's political upheaval, including former heavyweight boxer Vitaliy Klitschko and a number of politicians who have their political base in the Russian-speaking eastern provinces won by Yanukovich last election. A poll jointly released on Wednesday by four political research firms had Tymoshenko trailing in third place, behind chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko and Klitschko.
Tymoshenko’s candidacy pends the approval of her center-right Fatherland Party, of which she is the leader, to be determined in a meeting on Saturday.
It will be the second time that Tymoshenko, 53, seeks the position of president after being narrowly defeated by Yanukovich in a run-off vote in 2010. Yanukovich subsequently launched a campaign against Tymoshenko and her allies that culminated in a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office charges tied to an energy deal she brokered with Russia as prime minister in 2009.
But when Yanukovich fled to Russia on Feb. 20 and Ukraine’s pro-European opposition assumed interim control of the country, Tymoshenko was released five years early.
Resigned to a wheelchair due to recurrent back problems but still styling her familiar peasant hair-braid, Tymoshenko delivered a passionate speech before opposition protesters in Independence Square just hours after her release. She was welcomed back to Ukraine’s public sphere with warm applause, though many sensed already that post-revolution Ukraine would be wary of the country’s old guard.