KIEV, Ukraine - Viktor A. Yushchenko was sworn in as Ukraine's new president yesterday, then returned to Independence Square minutes later to thank a sea of countrymen who launched a civil disobedience campaign that propelled his "orange revolution" into power.
"Two months ago, at this square and into squares and streets all over Ukraine, millions of people came out to rally," Yushchenko said as snow began to fall. "The people have won a wonderful, peaceful victory."
His tribute to tens of thousands who gathered here in the subfreezing cold one last time yesterday was a fitting coda to the political drama that drew the world's attention to this square, renewed animosities between Washington and Moscow, and now holds the promise of transforming this former Soviet republic into a Western-leaning democracy.
Thousands pressed against one another and iron barricades, in the square and along adjoining Khreshchyk Street, to catch a glimpse of the 50-year- old president. Men and boys scaled the iron gates in front of nearby buildings, scrambled atop telephone booths and perched high in the bare branches of trees stretching into the square.
Orange, the color of Yushchenko's campaign, was ubiquitous, including scarves and banners, and twin pompoms worn over woolen hats like Mickey Mouse ears. Volunteers handed out strips of orange plastic, which Ukrainians tied into armbands. The strips were also wrapped around the giant bronze arms and wrists of statues in the square representing the city's heroic founders.
"I want to be with my people on this day and feel their energy," said Olena Vasylyuk, 49, who came to Independence Square with her two sons. One of them, 21-year-old Oleksii, who leads the youth wing of an environmental group, said the orange covering the square has a meaning that is clear the world over.
"I don't think democracy had a real symbol before this," he said.
The square where Yushchenko spoke yesterday after taking the oath of office in the nearby Ukrainian Rada, or parliament, was the site of a tent city that was the epicenter of his orange revolution. Thousands massed in the square, slept in the cold and shrugged off the threat of civil strife to protest a presidential runoff election Nov. 21 that was riddled with fraud.
Viktor F. Yanukovych, Yushchenko's Russian-leaning rival and the handpicked successor of the nation's leaders, was declared the official victor, but the spontaneous popular revolt forced a new election Dec. 26, which Yushchenko easily won.
While millions were exuberant, millions more, especially in the Russian-leaning eastern half of the country, likely watched the celebrations on television in anger or, at least, ambivalence. Yushchenko inherits a nation deeply divided, a reality he addressed in the square.
He told the crowd that no matter what color Ukrainians wore during the campaign, the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag are the colors that "unite us all," whether in "the east or west, south or north."
"We are turning a new page in Ukrainian history," the president said. "It will be the wonderful one. It will tell the rest of the world about our unity, about our courage, about our willingness to support each other."
Yushchenko must now channel the energy from Independence Square into the political momentum he will need to carry out an ambitious agenda, which includes unifying the nation and reforming a notoriously corrupt government.
Yushchenko's greatest goal is to draw this nation of nearly 50 million closer to Europe and its promise of free-market prosperity without alienating its single biggest trading partner, Russia, and millions of ethnically Russian Ukrainians.
The challenges are evident in some of Yushchenko's first official duties. He is scheduled to leave for Moscow today to meet with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who supported Yanukovych, before heading to other European capitals.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.