Who is Yulia Tymoshenko, politician spoiling Ukraine's Euro 2012
Boycott of Euro 2012 has brought plight of imprisoned former PM to world's attention
ST JAMES'S PALACE announced today that Prince Harry and Prince William are to join a growing list of high-profile absentees from football's 2012 European Championships which kick off in Poland and the Ukraine today. The princes join British government ministers and other European officials who will not attend matches played in the Ukraine in protest at the plight of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed in October 2011 for seven years after what critics have called a show trial.
Tymoshenko was a proponent of the Orange Revolution that swept the Ukraine almost a decade ago. She became Prime Minister in 2007, a post she held until the disputed election of 2010, which was won by her rival, Viktor Yanukovych. Tymoshenko claims the results of the ballot were rigged. She has since faced a series of corruption and bribery charges in a trial which was condemned by European Union leaders. The 51-year-old has also allegedly been abused and beaten in jail.
Tymoshenko's appeal against her conviction will be heard on 26 June. Pat Cox, former European Parliament President, and Aleksander Kwasniewski, former President of Poland, have been appointed as observers to monitor Tymoshenko's court proceedings on behalf of the EU.
Born in 1960, in Russian-speaking Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine, Tymoshenko studied engineering at the local university, married Oleksandr Tymoshenko, the son of the boss of the local Communist Party while still a teenage student, and had a daughter, Eugenia, in 1980. After university, she went into business. Taking advantage of an entrepreneurial climate in the Soviet Union under leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Tymoshenko's first taste of self-made money came from a video rental store she set up in the 1980s with her husband.
SUCCESS IN BUSINESS
In the 1990s, Tymoshenko became known as the "gas princess", when she headed Unified Energy Systems, a company that imported Russian gas into the Ukraine. Her career in the gas industry is believed to be the source her fortune, and she used this to take over other companies in the industry, seizing a virtual monopoly in the Ukrainian gas industry.
EARLY MOVES INTO POLITICS
Tymoshenko entered parliament in 1996 and was made deputy prime minister in charge of the energy sector in 2000 by the new prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko. But in 2001 she fell victim to political attacks, spending several weeks in jail accused of forging customs documents and smuggling gas - charges of which she was subsequently cleared.
On leaving prison, Tymoshenko changed her image from brunette to blonde, wearing designer clothing and adopting her trademark peasant-style braid. Her stylist later told media that the folksy look was designed to distance herself from an association with wealth and to emphasise a national Ukrainian identity.
Viktor Yushchenko, who swept to power as president following the 2004 'Orange Revolution' election, appointed her as his first prime minister in 2005, but their relationship soured and she was dismissed eight months later.
Tymoshenko won her second term as prime minister in December 2007. Her policies included compensation for depositors who lost Soviet-era savings, price controls on food and medicines to bring inflation down, calls for a review of murky privatisation deals and high social spending.
SEEDS OF DOWNFALL
Tymoshenko built strong ties with Moscow during her tenure as prime minister. This relationship represents the crux of her current convictions. She met with Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, in November 2009 to broker a deal between their respective state energy companies. Tymoshenko was convicted of "illegally" agreeing this gas deal with Russia.
Following her conviction, Tymoshenko was sent to a female penal colony in the eastern city of Kharkiv. She went on hunger strike earlier this year and only called it off when she was taken to hospital where, she alleges, she was beaten up by guards.
Tymoshenko and her family have voiced concerns about her safety while she is being held in prison. In an interview with European Union Observer earlier this year, Tymoshenko said: "I am aware of the Stalinist saying that you get rid of the man, you get rid of the problem. There have been too many ‘accidents' in the past like the supposed suicide of former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko who somehow seemed to have shot himself in the head twice."