With her trademark blonde plaits and fiery rhetoric, Yulia Tymoshenko became the glamorous heroine of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution – before being jailed by the man she ousted.

Now, in a remarkable interview smuggled out of the prison hospital room where she lies in constant pain, she has condemned fresh allegations linking her to a murder as so ridiculous that they are akin to saying she caused an earthquake.

And in a plea to Western powers to scrutinise the ‘dictatorship’ she claims is being built by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, she accuses the country’s Mafia-like leaders of endemic corruption.

Crooked contracts, she says, lose the former communist state £125 billion a year, with projects such as the building of stadiums for this summer’s Euro 2012 football championships costing far more than their true value.

Mrs Tymoshenko became Prime Minister after the 2004 revolution to rapturous public acclaim. It seemed Ukraine was finally set to throw off the shackles of its Soviet past and embrace democracy.
Today, however, the defiant 52-year-old – who refers to her distinctive plaits as her ‘chain armour’ that ‘protects me from threats’ – has become a symbol of the repression of freedom.

Suffering from a back condition, she languishes in a shared room in a prison hospital in the city of Kharkiv, where she is serving seven years for abusing her prime ministerial power.

Last week Mrs Tymoshenko lost her appeal against conviction on charges connected to her signing of a Russian gas contract, which she claims are a tissue of lies inspired by Yanukovych, the man she helped remove from power in 2004 but who returned to defeat her in the 2010 presidential election.
‘Ukraine is a vital link for Europe: our energy transportation networks; our location between the European Union and Eurasia. We’re the melting pot of Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. The democracy we founded with the Orange Revolution has to be an example for other post-Soviet states.

‘If the West allows our democracy to be ruined, this example will be lost. You will see an authoritarian conglomerate forming on the European borders.’

Her greatest scorn is reserved for Yanukovych, who was Prime Minister at the time of the rigged elections that inspired the Orange Revolution and returned as president in 2010 after years of bitter infighting among the alliance that had overthrown him.

She said: ‘When he was elected president, he had an unbelievable second chance to put right his failures from before the Orange Revolution, to become a respected leader and to take Ukraine forward to EU membership.

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