Ukraine is holding a presidential runoff election on Sunday. It's worth remembering what took place there in 2004 - the Orange Revolution. After a disputed presidential election, thousands took to the streets and a court ruled the ballot had been rigged in favor of the Russian-backed candidate.

That same candidate has staged a dramatic political comeback. If he wins on Sunday, Ukraine could take a very different path and reestablish strong ties with Russia. Here's NPR's David Greene.

DAVID GREENE: Viktor Yanukovych represents Ukraine's past. He was part of a Kremlin-backed regime that led Ukraine for years with an authoritarian style. They opened the door to democracy only so much.

But nowadays, Yanukovych is running what feels almost like an American-style presidential campaign. There's even a press charter for reporters...

(Soundbite of scratchy PA system)

GREENE: ...only it's a 1969 Soviet-era plane with a scratchy PA system and propellers.

Yanukovych's rallies are quite a show. Just like a big-name pop or country star might warm up a crowd at a U.S. political campaign, Ukrainian singer Taisia Povaliy revs things up for Yanukovych.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TAISIA POVALIY (Singer): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Yanukovych is trying to manage a careful balance.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH (Presidential Candidate, Ukraine): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: People like some of what he represents, especially here in eastern Ukraine, where Russian is spoken far more than Ukrainian.

Mr. YANUKOVYCH: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: He told a crowd of thousands in the coal-mining city of Donetsk that if he becomes president, he'll sign a law protecting a Ukrainian's right to speak and do business in Russian.

Mr. YANUKOVYCH: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: But while many Ukrainians say they're looking for a leader with his tough style, they don't want to return to their authoritarian past. This explains why Yanukovych has tried to shed his old image as a stooge of Moscow.

In an interview this week, he stuck to that script and said, as president, he'd look westward.

Mr. YANUKOVYCH: (Through translator) Ukraine must integrate into the European Union. Ukraine has to introduce social standards and technical standards of Europe. And I will strive to sign a free-trade agreement with the EU.

GREENE: Yanukovych won the first round of presidential voting last month. And in this Sunday's runoff, he faces a familiar foe, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. During the Orange Revolution, she made Yanukovych a villain, calling Ukrainians into the streets to protest his apparent victory.

Five years on, Ukrainians are disappointed. They feel the experiment of the Orange Revolution hasn't made life much better for them. The economy has only gotten worse.

Mr. YANUKOVYCH: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: And this paved the way for the revolution's enemy to come back. Yanukovych is a former mechanic from eastern Ukraine; a tall, broad-shouldered tough guy who doesn't mince his words.

Mr. YANUKOVYCH: (Through translator) In the last five years, Ukraine lost very much. These have been lost years in the development of Ukraine.

GREENE: We should say Yanukovych isn't a squeaky-clean politician. He once served jail time on assault charges. His opponent in this election has played up his long-standing ties to Ukraine's rich and powerful, the so-called oligarchs.

None of this is lost on voters. One coal miner, Roman Fyodorov, told me Yanukovych isn't his ideal president.

Mr. ROMAN FYODOROV: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: They're all bandits. Yanukovych, he said, is just our bandit.

And that's been the message from many of Yanukovych's supporters. They feel like there's nowhere else to turn. At one campaign rally, I met a group of students who said it's hard to describe how tough it's been finding jobs and planning a future.

Ms. ANASTASIA GUREVICH: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: One of them, Anastasia Gurevich, said she likes that Yanukovych isn't promising the moon, like those leaders of the Orange Revolution did.

So, once again, you can hear calls for change across Ukraine. Many voters feel the brand of democracy that arrived in 2004 hasn't worked. And so they're deciding where Ukraine goes from here.

David Greene, NPR News.

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