By Jennifer Cohn
Ukraine gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Ever since, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has wanted Ukraine to join with Russia in forming a Eurasian Union. But many Ukrainians have wanted the country to join the European Union and align with the West, including the United States.
Yuschenko led a political coalition called Our Ukraine, which “united various democratic parties and groups from across the nation in hopes of bringing democracy to…Ukraine.”
“In early September 2004, Yushchenko led Yanukovych in the polls when he fell “suddenly and violently ill.” With his life in danger and no clear diagnosis, his aides brought him to a clinic in Vienna. There, doctors concluded that he had been poisoned by a particular strain of dioxin produced in only a handful of countries, “including Russia and excluding Ukraine.”
Yuschenko survived, but his face was disfigured by the poison and he suffered “excruciating pain,” requiring heavy pain medication.
Yuschenko nonetheless returned to the campaign trail, gaining even more support.
After the first round of the presidential election, the two-highest polling candidates, Yushchenko and Yanukovych, proceeded to a runoff on November 21.
Independent exit polls funded by the US and other western countries showed that Yuschenko won the runoff, 53/44. But according to the official report, Yanukovych won 49.5/46.0.