'Baba Paraska' - 'the maidan's talisman' - continues to believe in Orange Revolution's leaders

by Yana Sedova
Kyiv Press Bureau

KYIV - Among the unsung heroes of the Orange Revolution were Ukraine's "babusi," or elderly women, who brought homemade food for the revolutionaries and slept alongside them in tents.

From their ranks emerged 66-year-old Paraskovia Koroliuk, or as she is more fondly referred to, "Baba Paraska."

Known as "the maidan's talisman," she achieved her celebrity status after camping in the tent city for the revolution's entire duration and actively participating in protests and sieges of government buildings.

For her contribution, President Viktor Yushchenko awarded Mrs. Koroliuk the Order of Princess Olga III during a ceremony at the Mariyinsky Palace on this year's Independence Day.

Despite the split between the Orange Revolution's leaders and the scandals surrounding them, Baba Paraska remains a passionate defender of President Yushchenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

She will once again be on the maidan on November 22, the Orange Revolution's first anniversary, with the hope of standing alongside either or both Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko.

The president's September 8 decision to fire Ms. Tymoshenko deeply upset Baba Paraska, bringing her to tears. It motivated her to travel to the capital city with the hope of reconciling the Orange Revolution's leaders.

She had personal meetings with both leaders, who used the encounters as well-publicized photo-ops, but failed to bring harmony into the relations between Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yushchenko.

Nevertheless, Baba Paraska doesn't grieve over her failed diplomacy and said that no family is without disagreements. She firmly believes that Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yushchenko will soon reunite.

"I am not a politician, but they are politicians," Baba Paraska said. "They themselves know how to resolve matters between them. But I'm sad for everyone, because I was with them for two and a half months."

Her mission nowadays, she said, is to turn to the Ukrainian people and admonish what she considers their blameful attitude toward the president.

"People have turned against Viktor Andriyevych," Baba Paraska told The Ukrainian Weekly during a visit to its Kyiv bureau on November 1. "They say that he forgot about the people, who stood up for [the revolution's leaders], and abandoned them. And he has welcomed those who were against him."

For the March 26 parliamentary elections, Baba Paraska said she doesn't want to endorse any particular political bloc and she's not discouraged that Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko are campaigning separately.

She said she will try to vote for both of them.

"In my village, everything is possible," she said.

Baba Paraska's age has proven to be no hindrance to her passion for the Orange Revolution. She has spent the last several months journeying all across Ukraine to inspire support for President Yushchenko.

She mostly travels by "elektrychka," or local trains, because they allow a pensioner like herself to travel for free, she said.

In every new city, she immediately visits the city council, where she said the people welcome her with open arms. Government officials also welcome her, but she senses that her feistiness intimidates some.

In her journeys, Baba Paraska doesn't have a clear itinerary, and her plans can change by the minute.

Ultimately, she always returns to Kyiv, either to see the president, pass along presents from herself or other people and tell him what the people think of him. "I want to guard him against bad decisions," she said.

Despite her one-on-one meetings with the president, Baba Paraska lamented that he lately has refused to meet her. The president's press secretary, Iryna Heraschenko, doesn't answer her calls anymore, she said.

She said she sometimes waits for hours near the Presidential Secretariat building on Bankova Street for the president to appear. When she's able to catch a glimpse of him, she rejoices.

"There have been times when he won't even stop, and he won't look at me and hides from me," she said. "He's probably fed up with me. I cry and then I journey again. He may or may not want to talk to me, but I see him - and then I feel better."

Also unfulfilled are her personal requests to the president to help her home village of Dorohychivka in the Ternopil Oblast, she said.

Though Ms. Koroliuk fiercely defended Mr. Yushchenko, she acknowledged that nothing has changed in the lives of common people or her family after last year's events.

Despite Mr. Yushchenko's promises, there's still no gas to the village and there aren't any paved roads. Though he also promised her an increased pension, she hasn't received it. The city government has merely installed a telephone in her home.

Despite the disappointments and cold shoulders, Baba Paraska said she excuses the president for all his mistakes and will care for Mr. Yushchenko until the end of his life.

"I've devoted myself to Viktor Andriyevych," Baba Paraska said. "I decided that I am his mother, and he is my son. If something's not right, I wave my hand and forget about it."

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, November 20, 2005, No. 47, Vol. LXXIII

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