Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Saturday, 16 January 2010

Disenchanted Ukrainians take anger to the polls

Ruslan and Oleg Boyko
Ruslan and Oleg Boyko's buses once carried protesters. Now they stand empty.

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Kiev

Ukrainians go to the polls on Sunday in the first presidential election since the Orange Revolution five years ago.

Then, the results of a fraudulent poll were overturned by mass street protest. It looked like a victory for freedom and democracy over control from Moscow.

But five years on, there is widespread disappointment.

In the small town of Shampan, not far outside Kiev, the Boyko brothers are struggling to keep their transport business alive.

During the Orange Revolution, Ruslan and Oleg used their buses to ferry local protesters to and from the capital for free.

Now the buses stand idle. Their business has been badly hit by the economic crisis and the brothers have lost their faith in politics.

"I don't know who to vote for," says Ruslan. "There is no-one worth voting for, we're in a state of political depression."

It is hard to find a Ukrainian voter who isn't disillusioned with the lack of progress over the past five years.

Hrihoriy Nemyria
Deputy PM Hrihoriy Nemyria says there are huge expectations about the poll

Even Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister, Hrihoriy Nemyria, has this damning assessment: "Huge expectations; a lot of promises; a gap between the pompous rhetoric, high expectations and lack of delivery.

"Corruption is still widespread and that's something we need to deal with to catch up with our neighbours further to the west, like Poland, like Slovakia or Hungary, to come closer to the European Union."

His boss, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, with her trademark blonde braids and fiery rhetoric, was one of those who rallied the crowds in Independence Square five years ago.

Now she is running for the presidency.

Polls suggest she will face a second round run-off against the man who appears to have benefited most from the general feeling of disillusionment, Viktor Yanukovych.

Five years ago, Viktor Yanukovych was Moscow's favoured candidate to win.

He became the villain of the Orange Revolution, his reputation tarnished by accusations of mass fraud.

But he believes he was the rightful winner in 2004, and that his time has finally come.

Leonid Kozhara
Leonid Kozhara wants to see improved relations with Moscow

Leonid Kozhara, Mr Yanukovych's spokesman on foreign affairs, said: "What we see now, it's a complete failure of the so-called Orange parties.

"Actually it created a good ground for Yanukovych and we have no doubt that he will be the winner of this campaign."

Mr Kozhara dismisses any suggestion that Mr Yanukovych is still Moscow's man. But he does advocate a rapprochement with the Kremlin after five years of rocky relations.

"We don't aim to restore any sort of union with Russia, but our true aim is to restore good neighbourly relations. We badly need a good strategic relationship with Moscow."

In particular, Mr Kozhara says a potential President Yanukovych would consider extending Russia's lease on its Crimean Black Sea Fleet base; or possibly selling off part of Ukraine's vital gas transit pipeline network.

Ms Tymoshenko doesn't go so far in public. But she, too, is pushing for closer ties with Russia.

Political elite

In a small flat in the eastern city of Donetsk, Aleksandr Bondarenko shares his cramped flat with four family members. He used to be a coalminer but lost the use of his legs after he was sent to Chernobyl in 1986, to investigate the extent of the disaster.

The high doses of radiation he was exposed to have confined him to a wheelchair for life.

Viktor Yanukovych, 15 Jan 2010
Viktor Yanukovych is still a force to be reckoned with in Ukrainian politics

Donetsk is Viktor Yanukovych's heartland. He won most votes there in 2004 and expects to do so again this year.

But Mr Bondarenko can find no cheer in the revival of Mr Yanukovych's electoral fortunes. He is disenchanted with the entire political elite.

"Yanukovych, Tymoshenko, Yushchenko, they've all had their time in power," he says. "They did nothing. And then, when they lose power they say, 'Elect me, and I'll make life better'."

After five years of promises of a better life, he says, he still has to buy his own medication to ease his chronic pain, and borrow money from relatives to pay for a new wheelchair.

On Independence Square today, the sea of orange crowds of five years ago has given way to a skating rink.

It's unlikely there will be any large scale demonstrations this time round. Most people have lost faith in the power of protest.

Mustafa Najem is a local journalist.

Mustafa Najem
Journalist Mustafa Najem says oligarchs are still powerful

He is of Afghan origin, but has become one of a new breed of combative political commentators in Ukraine. Freedom of speech is one of the few benefits of the Orange Revolution most people can agree on.

"All pre-election processes in Ukraine depend on money, and this money is given by oligarchs," says Najem. "So Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, they are dependent on these oligarchs."

The Orange Revolution promised to break the power of this small group of fabulously wealthy businessmen.

But Najem says that the influence of the oligarchs has actually grown, as they spread their money among different candidates ahead of the election.

Whoever does end up becoming the next Ukrainian president, he or she will face an uphill struggle to rebuild voters' confidence that their short-lived demonstration of people power on the streets of Kiev five years ago was more than just a fleeting moment.

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