Eugenia Tymoshenko had a blessed early life as her mother, Yulia, rose to become prime minister of Ukraine. Then came the arrest. She tells Tim Bouquet (The Guardian) about the bitter fight to get “Lady Yu” out of jail.

Eugenia Tymoshenko steps out of a cab in sunny Knightsbridge wearing black high heels, a smart tan skirt and black jacket. She could be something senior at Goldman Sachs, but her pressing business is about life, death and justice. The 32-year-old is on a campaign to free her mother from a seven-year jail sentence in a Ukrainian prison – and, she says, from physical and mental torture that threatens to kill her.

Eugenia’s mother is Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister ofUkraine, sent to prison after a sequence of events that combines the plot of a revenge thriller with the darkest politics of the Soviet Union era. In October last year, Tymoshenko was found guilty of criminally “abusing her office” in what the United States and European Union have both called a politically motivated show trial. Even Russian president Vladimir Putin criticised the sentence. Since the start of her prison term, her daughter claims, Yulia has been beaten and denied access to a doctor or drugs. She has also been accused – without evidence – of the murder of a fellow MP. Tymoshenko’s supporters have protested and battled police on the streets of Kiev, and Tymoshenko herself has gone on hunger strike. Now it seems her only hope of freedom is her daughter.

Eugenia makes an unlikely saviour. Until her mother’s sentence, her career was running an Italian restaurant in Kiev. “I never had any ambition for politics,” she tells me. These days Eugenia strides confidently into TV studios for interviews. She talks with poise and passion to presidents and prime ministers. She addresses meetings of MEPs and briefs lawyers. And she litigates. “Ukraine courts don’t work,” Eugenia says. “We have to go overseas.”

When we meet she is in London talking to lawyers as she takes action in the British courts against Ukraine’s first deputy prosecutor. In March, Renat Kuzmin told BBC Ukraine that he had “reliable information” that money from her mother’s accounts had been transferred to pay hitmen who had gunned down MP and businessman Yevgen Shcherban, as well as his wife and his assistant, at an airport in 1996. “She has never been questioned, and this allegation has no basis in fact,” Eugenia says, toying with her pasta. One senses that this lapsed restaurateur now rarely finishes a meal.

Eugenia comes across as a mixture of relentless focus – displaying her mastery of the legal and political minefield that confronts her mother – and the restless stress of somebody who wishes that she could wake up to find that this was all a bad dream