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Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko is a Ukrainian economist and politician. He served as President of Ukraine from 2005 to 2010. Yushchenko was born in 1954 in Khoruzhivka, Ukraine. Both his parents were teachers.

Educated as an economist, Yushchenko worked in banking and finance for much of his career. After Ukrainian independence was restored in 1991, he became chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine from 1993 to 1999. President Leonid Kuchma appointed Yushchenko prime minister. Yushchenko served in that post from 1999 to 2001. Freedom House and other watchdog groups noted a marked deterioration in civil liberties and human rights under President Kuchma, including restrictions on the media, government efforts to undermine the political opposition, political violence and even murder.

Yushchenko became active in electoral politics, winning a seat in Ukraine’s parliament in 2002. That same year, he became leader of the Our Ukraine political coalition, the leading bloc of the democratic opposition to Kuchma.

In 2004, Yushchenko launched his campaign for president, quickly becoming the leading opposition candidate. Yushchenko faced formidable odds, with little access to the media. In September 2004, Yushchenko became seriously ill with what was later diagnosed as dioxin poisoning. Though gravely wounded, Yushchenko continued his political campaign. In the October 31, 2004 first round of elections, he narrowly edged Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Since neither Yanukovych nor Yushchenko won 50 percent of the vote, they met in a runoff election on November 21. Irregularities and fraud were widespread and the government proclaimed Yanukovych the winner. Public outrage led to the nonviolent demonstrations and protests of the Orange Revolution. After several weeks of protests, the government acceded to demands for a new round of elections. On December 26, 2004, Viktor Yushchenko defeated Viktor Yanukovych to become president of Ukraine.

As president, Yushchenko sought to improve Ukraine’s economy and democratic institutions. He worked to strengthen ties with the European Union and NATO. Throughout his presidency, Yushchenko was challenged by political infighting and fractious coalition governments. He unsuccessfully sought reelection in 2010, but lost to his 2004 rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

Since completing his term, Viktor Yushchenko has remained active in public affairs and politics. He currently serves as the founder and head of the Viktor Yushchenko Institute in Kyiv. 

I think that first and foremost, it is very important that a nation itself should answer these questions. It is a struggle. You know, freedom – it is not presented on a platter; independence is not presented on a platter. They are acquired in the struggle. In order to win in the fight, it is necessary to clearly understand the motives, to believe in them, to believe in the idea, to believe in and know your goal.

In other words, it is necessary to be sure about what you are doing. And, because we turn the discussion to democracy – and I am sorry that we do not have enough time – I would bring my arguments in regard to democracy and say the following: Slavery is never interesting; slavery is never productive. Finally, and, perhaps, this is the most important point: A slave never feels happiness. Only a free person can be happy.

Incidentally, the word democracy has a number of meanings, and all of them, as a rule, are very strong meanings. However, the meaning which I like the best is the one I want to recite, at least roughly: ‘Democracy – it is not something that can be given to you. Democracy – it is something you cannot give away.’ It is very important to understand about those challenges that democracy does not begin with president, that democracy does not begin with a head of state.

Democracy begins with you. With millions of us, with you feeling you are part of this grand goal. And not feeling that you should stand by and wait and wonder what will you receive. Democracy cannot be brought by servants, as freedom cannot be brought by tanks. You need to choose – whether in Cuba, or Belarus, or North Korea – those questions can be answered only by you. Whether you want live like this, can live like this – this is your choice. If you do not want to – you can move mountains, if you do not want live like this. You are the power. 

Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, bordering Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. It has an estimated population of nearly 45 million people, of which 78 percent are ethnic Ukrainians, 17 percent are ethnic Russians, with the rest belonging to other ethnic groups.

Ukrainian independence was reestablished in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 9th century, Kievan Rus was established as the first eastern Slavic state on what is now Ukrainian territory. For much of its history, Ukraine was subjugated to neighboring powers such as Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and Austria-Hungary. Briefly independent after World War I, Ukraine was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922. After World War II, Soviet Ukraine’s territory was enlarged to include former Polish, Romanian and Czechoslovak territory in the west and the mostly ethnic-Russian Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea.

Ukraine’s rich soil made it the breadbasket of the USSR. Today, it is the world’s third largest exporter of grain. Industrialization took place during the Soviet era, along with collectivization of agriculture. During the 1930s, the collectivization of agriculture and displacement of farmers to the cities to work in heavy industry led to a catastrophic famine, known to Ukrainians as the Holodomor. As many as 10 million people perished. Under the rule of dictator Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union aimed to eliminate Ukraine’s national identity. Artists and intellectuals and those believed to be Ukrainian nationalists were eliminated by the security agencies. Nearly 700,000 people are believed to have perished during these purges.

During World War II, Ukraine was the scene of heavy fighting between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Five to eight million Ukrainians died during the war, including the majority of Ukraine’s Jewish population. After the war, the economy grew rapidly, with agriculture and heavy industry driving growth. Ukraine was second only to Russia in power and influence within the Soviet Union. In 1986, Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was the scene of the worst nuclear accident in history.

In 1990, as the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, Ukraine adopted a declaration of sovereignty, a prelude to the 1991 declaration of full independence. The first decade of independence saw Ukraine’s economy collapse, with massive unemployment and hyperinflation. The country’s road to democracy was troubled, with President Leonid Kuchma’s new constitution centralizing power in the presidency. Corruption, electoral fraud, and domination of the economy by Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs led to political stagnation. Freedom House and other watchdog groups noted a marked deterioration in civil liberties and human rights under President Kuchma, including restrictions on the media, government efforts to undermine the political opposition, political violence and even murder.

Ukrainian politics has been highly contentious and essentially divided into two large political blocs. The first group, led by Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, was seen as advocating closer ties with Russia. The second group, led by Viktor Yushchenko and the Our Ukraine coalition, was seen as favoring democratic reforms and preferring a closer relationship with the European Union (EU) and NATO.

In 2004, Presidential elections were held and Yanukovych was declared as the winner. Yushchenko challenged the results of this election, arguing that they were rigged. Yushchenko then peacefully came to power in what has become known as the Orange Revolution. In 2010, Yanukovych was elected as President. In late 2013, protests began in Kiev after Yanukovych’s policies began shifting away from the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia. Violent government suppression of protests ultimately led to the Parliament removing Yanukovych from power in February 2014 and holding new elections, which were won by pro-EU President Petro Poroshenko.

In March of 2014, Russian troops were deployed to Crimea where secession riots had broken out. The Crimean Parliament voted to secede from Ukraine in order to join the Russian Federation. This decision was confirmed by a referendum vote, the validity of which has been contested by the international community. In 2014 and 2015, pro-Russian militias took control of a swath of eastern Ukraine.

In its 2015 “Freedom in the World” report, Freedom House labeled Ukraine as “partly free”. It received an overall Freedom Rating of 3, with 1 being the most free and 7 being the least. Ukraine received a 3 in civil liberties and a 4 in political rights on the same scale. In its 2015 “Freedom of the Press” Report, Freedom House gave a partly free score of 58 to Ukraine, where 0 is the best possible score and 100 is the worst possible score. 

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