In politics there are figures who are accidental, who sink into oblivion fast, they appear from nowhere and disappear into nowhere, leaving little trace. There are, on the other hand, figures who are symbolic, whose appearance is a logical result of the development of society. It seems that the turn of the century in Ukraine has been marked by the appearance of a person whose name in the minds of many Ukrainians is connected with one of the most important factors in building up a state ó the introduction of national currency and further support of this new currency in the turbulent years of the transitional period in Ukraineís economy. Ukraineís Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko has very little time for interviews. Mr Yushchenko, former head of the National Bank of Ukraine and the youngest premier in the history of Ukraine, has an enormous amount of work to do. Nevertheless, an interview has been given.

Itís better to be rich in an affluent society
than poor in an impoverished society.
Q: Iíll begin with a question which may seem somewhat unexpected. Very many people believe that the top state banker, prime minister, they are officials who are obliged to give positive answers. Do you know how to say ďnoĒ to someone?
A: Yes, I do. Iíve been taught to say ďnoĒ by my occupation. Well-substantiated, well-balanced, well-thought-out ďnoĒ weighs more than a populistís ďyes.Ē As head of the National Bank I had to meet all kinds of people. Say, an old woman complains: ďMr Yushchenko, you must be ashamed of yourself ó we receive meagre pensions, salaries are no much better, and people say that there is a lot of money in the National Bank. How come we get so little?Ē I fully understand her problem. But how to explain to her the real state of things in this country? All right, if I say, ďYes, youíll get moreĒ and start printing money and people will start getting bigger wages and pensions, itíll be an irresponsible thing on my part to do because this same woman will go shopping a couple days later and will be shocked to see price tags.
Sheíll feel sheís been cheated again. But saying ďnoĒ will mean that we must not get involved in cosmetic facelifts of our economy. We should look into the roots of the problems ó we must not pretty up the facade when we are not sure that the foundation is firm enough. Iím for the truth in economic matters. When things get improved, Iíll be only glad to say ďyesĒ to people.
Q: Are you a tough person?
A: On the contrary, Iím soft-hearted, and I choose the tactics of arguments. Itís both good and bad because arguments take a lot of time to make. And because of my work, Iím always short of time. Often enough, problems turn up to solve which one has to make a swift, determined decision, to sail over the abyss, so to say, in one powerful leap. Say, Iím talking to a person discussing an important matter, and I think: this person has the same rights as I do, granted to me and to this person by God or by state, and nobody in the world can claim that he or she has all the truth. Iím of the opinion that the art of conducting a dialogue is to be taught starting from early childhood, because if a grown-up person does not overcome the childish attitude in which the world is regarded as something secondary to this person, then he or she will harden into an irredeemable egotist who will be a source of trouble both for himself or herself and for society as a whole. I think it was Confucius who said: ďThe more I keep silent, the more I learn.Ē

The interviewer was Olena Romina, a well known TV journalist and newswoman, who helped us come to know a little better the man who has joined Ukraineís president at the countryís ďcaptainís bridge.Ē
To find oneís way between monologue and dialogue in a wide sense of the word means to survive and to achieve.
Q: Does it mean a lot to you ó to achieve?
A: Itís most important. Someone who regards his or her work as drudgery and eagerly looks forward to the end of the working day, is to be pitied. I get great kicks out of my work. There is only one thing that irks me ó lack of time to do everything thatís needed to be done. Skovoroda [Ukrainian philosopher and poet of the 18th century] said: ďLoss of time is the greatest loss in the world.Ē I mean, itíd be great to be able to address God with a request to be granted, say, another forty years of life and enough health and vigour to do everything that must be done. But is it worth asking? Every day one must take a step, half of a step, but always forward.
Q: Are all your steps and half-steps carefully planned?
A: You know, Iíve just remembered a funny thing that happened to me. Several years ago I was in Israel where I conducted important negotiations. Two billionaires were also present at the talks, they were very influential businessmen, real financial tycoons. There was an important meeting to attend and we tried to figure out how to squeeze it into our very tight schedule. One of the businessmen said: ďLook, Viktor, in your life it should be like this: if you ask me what Iím gonna do at 9 oíclock in the morning on June 17, 2006, Iíll be able to tell you ó Iíll be playing chess.Ē

Varvara Yushchenko, Premier Yushchenkoís mother, a retired teacher of mathematics.

Trip to the Past, by V. Yushchenko. Oil on canvas, 1993.

Well, on a more serious note I can tell you I do have a detailed plan for several months ahead, but every day brings something new, and so changes must be introduced into the set schedule. There is a Chinese saying: If you have enemies, wish them to live in an epoch of great changes. Iím glad Iím living in such an epoch. Many important changes have occurred in the years of Ukraineís independence. Iím aware of the fact that not all of my fellow countrymen are satisfied with their life and by far not everyone welcomes each new day with a smile, but... But in Ukraine powerful tectonic processes are taking place, profound changes are occurring, which, Iím sure, will bring tangible results that everyone will appreciate. You canít judge the whole painting by looking at it from a very close distance ó all youíll see will be strokes of paint, and thatís all. No idea what the whole is like. Unfortunately, only historical distance will give us a chance to assess our present situation in a correct manner. Consider this: Ukraine from being a province of an Empire is regaining a place due to her ó a place in Europe as an independent state. This alone, when properly considered, makes it worthwhile living in an epoch of changes and contributing to these changes. ďMy grandfather was a peasant, working in the fields, one of many millions of people like him in Ukraine.Ē
: Observing you at official meetings, social occasions, or just talking with someone, one gets an impression that you come from a family with several generations of aristocrats behind you.
Where did you acquire this noble bearing?
A: Should I answer this question in all seriousness or in jest? Should I tell you I keep training every day? But the fact of the matter is ó Iím of Cossack stock, so in a sense, I have an aristocratic background, in the Ukrainian sense of the word. But one of my grandfathers was a regular peasant, one of many millions like him in the land of Slobozhanshchyna. Here is one of my earliest memories: Iím sitting at the gate, itís very early in the morning, my grandpa Prokip is harnessing a horse, named Polkan, to a wagon, and the wagon is nicely decorated with bright painted ornaments. A village child, I started my working career as a cowherd and then, at the age of ten, I was promoted to a swineherd. I donít think now in Ukraine youíll see anywhere swine being tended the way it was done back then.
Q: Iím sure many a woman who must be in love with this brilliant and aristocratically-looking premier, will be greatly surprised to learn he tended swine in his childhood.
A: I think itíll just add to my score. Itís so important to get from your native soil its wisdom, its nobility, its Christian morality right through the soles of your bare feet, as it were. I wish I could say Iím a man who has got all of these things. Incidentally, my daughter learnt to milk a cow when she was four. And sheís been doing it regularly ever since. There is nothing unique in it, nothing special in it, millions of people in Ukraine used to do it, and, of course, still do. ďMommy said Viktor should be an accountant.Ē
: What did you dream of doing in your grown-up life when you were a child?

In the peasant house (now a museum) where Taras Shevchenko was born. On the left ó Anatoliy Haydamaka, a remarkable Ukrainian painter, who gave lessons of painting to Viktor Yushchenko.
A: At first, I wanted to be a pilot, then, later ó an archaeologist. My father gave me as a present a childrenís encyclopaedia in several volumes which had been gathering dust in our village bookstore for years. I spent an entire summer reading these volumes in the loft of our house. Thatís how I got to be so interested in history and archaeology.
Q: So why didnít you go ahead and become an archaeologist?
A: Because of my mother. In our family, similarly to most of other Ukrainian families, there was a rule: do like your father tells you to do, but you should know that anyway things will turn the way your mom wants them. So, my mother said that Viktor, that is me, should be an accountant. I was very upset, cried hard, but now Iím grateful to my mother for setting me on the right course. ďNeither your career nor the post you occupy in themselves can make you happy.Ē
Q: Youíve mentioned hobbies. We know that Viktor Yushchenko likes painting...
: But you probably donít know that Viktor Yushchenko can work as a blacksmith. I donít regard my painting as something special, I do it the way I can. Inclination to painting is in the family: my father and my brother practised it as a hobby. In general, Iím a man who can easily become greatly enthusiastic about this or that thing. Several years, ago, for example, I fell in love, as it were, with clay, that is making earthenware out of it. I got involved in it so much, that I set a pottery shop complete with potterís wheel and everything. Itís such a great joy to see something come into being, created by your hands, take shape, become a self-sustained thing.

Viktor Yushchenko has put a lot of effort into renovating and providing maintenance of what is called in Ukraine ďShevchenkoís places,Ē that is memorial places (houses the poet stayed at, lived in, worked in, etc.) which are connected with the life and work of Taras Shevchenko, a towering figure of Ukrainian culture. Some of them were neglected in the Soviet times to such an extent that they were close to ruin. Mr Yushchenko first addressed himself to this problem when he was still Head of the National Bank of Ukraine.

Then your earthenware creation must be painted, baked in an oven. It gives you such a great feeling. One of the dishes that I made once still hangs on the wall in my home. And once, about six years ago, I walked into a smithy and made a candlestick to be put on a mantelpiece, and, you know, it inspired me so much! Probably, I should join the union of blacksmiths of Ukraine, to feel myself one of them, sharing their brotherhood. Itís so great to have skills like that... Itís such a great feeling to see metal take shape when you forge it. It does not matter what it should be, a nail or... or a metal rose. Such a tremendous thrill grips you when you create a thing like that. Similar to the one you get when you climb to the top of a mountain peak... I worked for some time as a mountain-climbing instructor. I quit after... well, I donít want to speak about it. Mountain climbing is in my blood. I love mountains. If I donít get to visit the Carpathian Mountains once in a while, I feel something is terribly lacking in my life. Itís like a breath of fresh air for me.
Q: Is there anything in the world that you are afraid of?
A: Well, as the saying goes: Donít be afraid, but be cautious. I feel discomfort, if I have not completed what had to be done.
Q: Does it really happen?
A: Not in the sphere of economy but in politics. Iím apprehensive of gambling men, gambling in a figurative sense. I think that in finances passions and gambling attitudes are dangerous. Usually they lead to great flops. ďA woman must have a skill to evoke love.Ē
Q: A man like you who loves beauty... Whatís your attitude to beautiful women? Do you have an ideal which a woman should match?
: A woman must have a skill to evoke love...

Once, when we celebrated my motherís birthday, I think it was when she turned 83, she said: ďChildren mine, without love itís not worth living at all.Ē I often ponder over this. Itís not just a clever statement, itís a piece of spiritual wisdom. Godís commandments begin with love. Itís not hard to fall in love. But much more difficult to create the energy field of love, the field in which love is reborn every day, in spite of all the everyday routine, all those petty annoyances and vexations ó this, I must tell you, is art, great work for your heart and soul, and traditionally this work is taken up by an intelligent and wise woman. Itís not enough to say once ď I love you,Ē itís not enough to repeat it once in a while, the aura of love is created through never-ending exertions of your heart and soul. ďItís better to be rich in an affluent society than poor in a impoverished society.Ē
Q: Are you a rich man?
A: No, Iím not. Itís a shame to be rich in a poor country. One must always feel the boundary beyond which material well-being becomes an end in itself, and not just means to keep one going, to satisfy oneís interests and daily requirements ó thatís what it is for. Iím convinced that those who hold the reins of government in their hands may use all the material benefits at their disposal without any pangs of conscience only when they have done all they could for making it possible for 50 million of their countrymen who contribute their work, their intelligence, their talents to the general well-being of their country, to get their share of what they have earned by their labour, and consider themselves provided for in accordance with their contribution. Margaret Thatcher once wisely said ó I like to repeat her words quite often: ďIn order for a society to have a future, two things must be done ó social justice established and strong currency introduced.Ē This still holds true.
Q: When one moves towards oneís goal, climbs to the summit, one gains a lot and loses a lot. Sometimes, loses more than gains. What has Viktor Yushchenko gained and what has he lost?
A: Iíve lost a part ó and probably a considerable part ó of my private life. Or, maybe, never had a chance to live through some of that part fully. What have I gained? Ukraine is passing through a unique period of its development. Iím neither a pessimist nor a carefree optimist. I can see both open and hidden dangers that our country may run into. Iíve achieved self-sufficiency in this country in this period of time ó because Iíve got my native land, Iíve got my work which I want to do in order to serve my native country in full measure. I want to be a rich man among other rich men living in a rich society. Arenít all the hardships we have gone through a sufficient price for such a future?

Welcome to Ukraine Magazine thanks Mr. A. Haydamaka for the photographs he has supplied.
In one of the next issues of our magazine a feature about this notable Ukrainian artist will be published.