The Orange Revolution, Six Months Later

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BBC reporter Helen Fawkes talks about what's changed in Ukraine since the election of President Viktor Yushchenko last year. Yushchenko vowed to cut out corruption in government, but his government has been accused of persecuting his former opponent.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, we're going to check back on a revolution. It's been more than half a year since demonstrators waving orange flags swept a new leader into power in Ukraine.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

Unidentified Man: Yushchenko! President!

Group: (In unison) Yushchenko! President!

INSKEEP: These demonstrations, part of the Orange Revolution, took place in Independence Square in Kiev. Today in that square, tourists can buy Orange Revolution scarves and perfume, even vodka. But a lot of work remains for the new president, Viktor Yushchenko. So this morning, we're going to check back with the reporter who covered last year's mass demonstrations. Helen Fawkes has remained in Ukraine ever since and she joins us now.

Welcome.

HELEN FAWKES reporting:

Hi, there, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I know you were reporting in Ukraine even before the revolution. Does it feel like a different country than it did before?

FAWKES: Absolutely. The president and the government has now changed into more pro-Western authorities. There's very much a different feeling here, one of greater democracy. Up until the Orange Revolution, most of the media was pro-presidential. There was only a few media outlets that you could hear any news about the opposition. And it was during those mass protests that many of the journalists came out and stood onstage in front of those hundreds of thousands of people and said, `We lied. We were told what to say and we said it. And now we will report the news in a balanced way.' And that's largely what people have done.

INSKEEP: I assume that that would mean, though, that you get a close look at the shortcomings of the new administration as well.

FAWKES: And that's something they're not really happy about, the way they've been reported. We've had a few scandals in the last few months. One of them--we've had a story about the son of the president driving around in the most expensive car you can buy in Ukraine, going to nightclubs and paying with great big rolls of money and not keeping to the law. Now the president's son has said that, you know, all the goods he's got, he's got legitimately. And the president has attacked the press for concentrating on this story, but it's something that has struck a note with people who thought that the authorities were going to bring in a new kind of power, one that's not just for people in elite positions.

INSKEEP: The president, Viktor Yushchenko, also promised to improve his country's economy, bring in Western investment. Has that happened?

FAWKES: It hasn't happened, Steve. Many companies are scared of what might happen over the next few years. Viktor Yushchenko came to power saying that he was determined to investigate some of the more dubious deals that were done in the first years of Ukraine's independence, and there have been investigations into a number of the privatization deals of the past. And we see Ukraine at the moment being run by a very small number of people, many of them oligarchs like you have in Russia, who are tremendously wealthy, and I think that the new authorities really want to make Ukraine into a fairer country. But, you know, it's been very difficult for Ukraine's parliament to pass all the laws it needs to really reform the economy.

INSKEEP: The Bush administration was very supportive of the change in government in Ukraine. Is the administration still seen as very supportive?

FAWKES: It is, but to a point. Ordinary people that I've spoken to say that it makes them glad when people like Viktor Yushchenko can go to America and to have a hero's welcome like he did a few months ago. But Ukraine is not willing to completely do everything that the US wants it to do. For example, it's now going to start withdrawing its troops from Iraq. There's more than a thousand Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq. Now this is a campaign pledge by Viktor Yushchenko. He said that he would bring the boys home even though Ukraine does receive a lot of support from the US. And it's said that, you know, it still wants to have a good strategic relationship with Russia as well. So it doesn't want entirely to just do exactly what America wants it to do. The Ukrainian president has said that, you know, he wants to do what's best for Ukraine.

INSKEEP: That's Helen Fawkes, who reports for the BBC from Kiev.

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