WASHINGTON - Newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, facially disfigured from being poisoned during his campaign to oust the Russian-backed former president of his country, spoke amid cheers during a joint session of Congress yesterday, gaining a series of standing ovations but no promise of more aid.
Mr. Yushchenko, concluding a three-day visit to the United States, said his nation, once dominated by communists as part of the Soviet Union, seeks freedom, prosperity, and a new, warmer relationship with the United States.
"Ukraine is opening a new page in the world's chronicle of liberty in the 21st century," he said, noting Ukraine voluntarily gave up the world's third largest nuclear arsenal.
After his speech, lawmakers chanted "Yush-chen-ko," as his supporters in Ukraine regularly do. They asked for autographs and waved orange scarves or wore orange ties, as Vice President Cheney did, to signify solidarity with the Orange Revolution, which helped oust Ukraine's former president, considered by many to be a puppet of the Kremlin.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), whose Polish relatives farmed land that is now Ukraine and who is co-chairman of the Ukraine caucus in the House, said that Mr. Yushchenko's presence before Congress as much as his speech offered "enormous hope that Ukraine has the possibility of building freedom's institutions."
She was struck, she said, by "his obvious disfigurement because of the attempted murder and his sober delivery [which] professed his profound knowledge of how difficult the road ahead is."
She said she would fight the administration's effort to cut aid to Ukraine from $150 million a year to $60 million. "Here is a place where you need to ripen what is already growing. This is a battle we have to have. Here an opportunity where 50 million can have freedom. In Iraq, where we're spending billions [of dollars], we're talking about 25 million people. Ukraine is a border nation between East and West. It's an opportunity we can't let slip from our fingers."
Mr. Yushchenko and President Bush met earlier in the week, before both men left separately yesterday for Rome for tomorrow's funeral of Pope John Paul II. Mr. Yushchenko made clear that he will pull 1,650 Ukrainian soldiers from Iraq by the end of the year. Mr. Bush said he understands that Mr. Yushchenko must keep his campaign promise. The war in Iraq is unpopular in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian leader took office in January after a tense runoff election with Viktor Yanukovych. The world was gripped by days of large but peaceful street demonstrations in Kiev in favor of Mr. Yushchenko that finally forced a second election.
Doctors outside of Ukraine confirmed that Mr. Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, ostensibly by a former KGB agent thought to be part of a conspiracy to keep him from becoming president. Yesterday Mr. Yushchenko introduced his wife as having been essential to his survival and his decision to continue to seek the ouster of the former regime, once accused by the Bush administration of sending radar to Iraq illegally.
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