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Orange Believers Losing Faith

KIEV, Ukraine -- One recent rainy day, Natalya Simonenko was suddenly overcome with nostalgia for the time she spent on Independence Square a year ago.

She opened the drawer where she kept last year's Orange Revolution memorabilia -- orange ribbons, a mug with President Viktor Yushchenko's portrait, an orange scarf, several orange flags and her favorite orange sweater -- and decided to throw them all into the trash.

"It was the right place for them, I felt relieved afterward. I couldn't even imagine myself throwing these things away before, but now ... " she said, her voice trailing off.

Simonenko, 26, a businesswoman from the Black Sea port of Odessa, was one of the many thousands of orange-clad people who last year crammed Kiev's central Independence Square to protest the fraudulent Nov. 21, 2004, runoff election that gave victory to then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. After two weeks of continuous protests -- often in freezing temperatures -- the election result was overturned, and in December Yushchenko was elected president in a rerun of the vote.

Like many participants in the protests, Simonenko hoped that Yushchenko would put an end to the cronyism and corruption under his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma.

But a year later, the mood of the participants in the Orange Revolution has switched from one of initial euphoria to deep disappointment, with many of those who took to the streets in protest now seeing no difference between the old and the new ruling elites.

And the team of Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, the hero and the heroine of Independence Square, are seen by many of their former supporters as failing to keep their promises.

Orange, the emblematic color of Yushchenko's supporters, is hardly seen on the streets of Kiev anymore, while opinion polls show that Ukrainians increasingly think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

"I was one of the few in Odessa to support Yushchenko; I traveled to Kiev to demonstrate," Simonenko said during a recent trip to the capital. "I used to argue with my family and my neighbors who supported Yanukovych. I wanted the country to change, but after a year I see that nothing has, corruption is still high, and the oligarchs are still running things."

In Simonenko's hometown of Odessa, where most residents speak Russian as their first language and Yanukovych won about 70 percent of the vote in last year's elections, she said friends and neighbors now laugh at her for supporting the protests.

"They say, 'So, what happened with your beloved Yushchenko?' It's so disappointing," Simonenko said.She said the upcoming elections left her cold. "I don't even know whom to vote for. What choice is there anymore?"

Source: The Moscow Times

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