Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
September 16, 2005

Yushchenko in U.S. despite home woes
His standing tarnished in Ukraine, he will be in Philadelphia tomorrow to get the Liberty Medal.

With his Orange Revolution government in disarray, Ukrainian President Viktor A. Yushchenko raised eyebrows yesterday by traveling to the United States, where he will collect the $100,000 Liberty Medal tomorrow in Philadelphia.

Yushchenko met in New York with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a summit to mark the United Nations' 60th anniversary. He plans to visit Philadelphia this weekend for the Liberty Medal ceremony, according to Yushchenko's Web site and to a spokesman at Ukraine's U.N. mission in New York.

Yushchenko's travel plans were in doubt after he sacked his charismatic prime minister last week amid mutual accusations of corruption.

"The timing is bad," said Taras Kuzio, a visiting professor at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. "The commonly held view in Ukraine and in Washington is that we are surprised he's leaving the Ukraine when he doesn't have a government in place."

Yushchenko, who was disfigured by dioxin poisoning during a tumultuous campaign last year, came to power in December during the Orange Revolution, which ousted the Russian-supported ruling party. But the euphoria has worn off. His approval ratings have declined.

He fired Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and all of his cabinet Sept. 8, after months of bickering over the government's direction. Tymoshenko, also part of the Orange Revolution, then announced she was joining the opposition.

By leaving the country on a nonessential mission, Yushchenko risks amplifying the perception that he is out of touch, Kuzio said.

"He's not appreciative of the depth of the crisis in Ukraine," Kuzio said.

The Liberty Medal usually is awarded on July 4, but Yushchenko could not be here for Independence Day. The ceremony was rescheduled for Sept. 17 at the National Constitution Center. Many Center City businesses plan to bathe their buildings in orange light to recognize Yushchenko's visit.

A provision of the Liberty Medal is that the recipient must personally collect the award, thus ensuring the attendance of world leaders at the annual event, said R. Andrew Swinney, president of the Philadelphia Foundation, which administers the Liberty Medal.

But Swinney said the rule was not ironclad. Polish President Lech Walesa, the first Liberty Medal winner, in 1989, sent his wife to collect the award.

The Liberty Medal was created at the Constitution's bicentennial to heighten recognition of America's founding principles. The most recent winners were former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. home page   
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