KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whose travel has been effectively restricted by authorities over the past two months, on Tuesday won permission from prosecutors to visit her mother in Dnipropetrovsk next week.
The development is a small victory for Tymoshenko, whose requests to travel to Brussels over the past two months were declined at least twice.
The permission to visit Dnipropetrovsk on March 8, Women’s Day, comes two weeks after President Viktor Yanukovych admitted that European leaders had spoken to him directly about easing Tymoshenko’s travel restrictions.
Now, it will be harder for prosecutors to decline Tymoshenko’s next international trip, and she has planned to request a permission to visit Brussels March 23–24 for a meeting with European Union leaders.
“The prosecutor investigating the case at the Prosecutor General’s Office has today reviewed and decided to satisfy the request by Tymoshenko to make the trip to Dnipropetrovsk on March 8,” the Prosecutor General’s Office reported Tuesday.
Ukraine, as most of other former Soviet Union countries, celebrate what they used to call the International Women’s Day on March 8.
The development may signal a change in the way the authorities treat Tymoshenko, the leader of the largest opposition party in Ukraine, who had been under investigation since the middle of December 2010.
Tymoshenko, who lost presidential election to Yanukovych in February 2010, is charged with abusing power while the prime minister in 2009.
In particular, the authorities accuse her of diverting some environmental funds towards payment of pensions in 2009, while other charges allege her government had ordered the purchase of ill-equipped ambulances.
Tymoshenko, who is obliged by prosecutors to stay in Kiev until the investigation is finished, has asked them two times a permission to visit Brussels in February for a meeting with European leaders.
Both times the permission has been denied on different reasons: first – because the investigation has been written in English and the prosecutors demanded a Ukrainian translation, and second – the prosecutors said that Tymoshenko may leave Ukraine for good.
But responding to mounting international criticism, Yanukovych on Feb. 16 admitted that the “restriction is not acceptable” and the trip “must take place.”
The comment showed that the European politicians had communicated directly with Yanukovych to put pressure on him for letting Tymoshenko leave Ukraine for the meetings.
Yanukovych said he was “irritated” by the restrictions that he says have been imposed by the prosecutors.
This underscored a new tactic as the Ukrainian authorities had so far failed to react to general political statements criticizing the deteriorating political freedoms in Ukraine.
Tymoshenko was against invited to join a summit of the European People’s Party in Brussels on March 23-24, during which she will be able to meet a number of European Union leaders.
Tymoshenko later reacted sarcastically to the Yanukovych comments, but said that this time the prosecutors may finally let her go.
The pressure on Tymoshenko intensified late last year after she had repeatedly traveled to Brussels to criticize Yanukovych on international arena.
After one such trip last year, an anonymous caller phoned Tymoshenko and told her that she will “cough up blood” unless she stops criticizing Yanukovych internationally.
A criminal investigation was opened shortly afterwards, and her travel restrictions had been imposed.