The Orange Revolution

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It was both a symbol and a symptom of the revolution that rippled across Ukraine last week. On Thursday, as the presenter of state-controlled UT1's main morning news program was updating viewers on the Central Electoral Commission's decision to declare Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych the winner of the country's Nov. 21 presidential vote, Natalya Dmitruk, the woman who translates broadcasts into sign language, decided to send a very different message. "When the presenter started to read the news," Dmitruk tells TIME, "I said, 'I address all deaf viewers. Yushchenko is our President. Do not believe the Electoral Commission. They are lying.'" In a week filled with remarkable acts of political protest, Dmitruk's silent rebellion was one of the most defiant.

Independent Ukraine's fourth presidential election since the collapse of the Soviet Union was supposed to reach a conclusion in the Nov. 21 runoff. On Monday the Electoral Commission said preliminary tallies showed Moscow's favored candidate, Yanukovych, ahead by 3 percentage points. But immediately there were widespread accusations by Ukrainian and foreign monitors of massive fraud — including voter intimidation, physical assaults and the torching of ballot boxes. Yet the state-controlled media, which had backed Yanukovych through the five-month campaign, were reporting no major violations. Convinced that the election was being stolen from the rightful victor, supporters of Western-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko poured into Kiev's Independence Square to demand that their man be recognized as the winner. City residents mixed with swarms of protesters from across the country, all wearing something orange, the color of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party. Despite heavy snow and freezing temperatures, the crowd was in a festive mood, eager to embrace Yushchenko's orange revolution against the country's Moscow-backed old guard. When a mob of students took over part of the nearby Ministry of Education building, staff members served them tea and cookies.


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Yushchenko, his face disfigured by what he claims was an attempt by government authorities to poison him in September, urged people not to leave the square until the commission's ruling was overturned. "We appeal to citizens of Ukraine to support the national resistance movement," he told the cheering throng. "We should not leave this square until we secure victory." And his supporters did just that. On Saturday evening, after six days of nonstop peaceful protests, the state and its candidate were forced to back down. In a nonbinding vote, Parliament declared the poll results invalid but did not recommend a date for the rerun, although many deputies expect that to happen in mid-December. The Supreme Court, which has final jurisdiction over elections, will examine the fraud allegations and make its ruling this week. But news that Yanukovych would not be inaugurated caused jubilation in Kiev, where hundreds of thousands continued their vigil. "Nobody will stop us now," exulted Vasily, a Kiev engineer.

In a race that was fought largely over whether Ukraine would pursue Western-style reforms and closer ties to Europe or stick with state control and a tight relationship with Russia, coming that far was a remarkable achievement for Yushchenko. But even if he does ultimately prevail at the ballot box, that doesn't mean the crisis is over. Rather like red-state-blue-state America, Ukraine remains a divided and distrustful nation, with the Russian-speaking, industrialized eastern part of the country backing Yanukovych and the more nationalistic, agricultural west wanting Yushchenko. The two camps are as polarized as the reporting on UT-1's morning news broadcast.

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