UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VICTOR YUSHCHENKO, STILL SHAKEN BY THE POISONING ATTEMPT ON HIS LIFE, VOWS TO HEAL HIS COUNTRY IN HIS FIRST U.S. INTERVIEW SINCE HIS ELECTION --
"60 MINUTES" SUNDAY ON CBS
The newly elected president of Ukraine is still shaken by the disfigured face he sees in the mirror, the result of the poisoning attempt on his life during his election campaign. But he tells Christiane Amanpour he will work to heal his face and the damage the incident caused his country in his first U.S. interview since his election. Amanpour's report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday Jan. 30 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"Honestly, I haven't gotten used to this Yushchenko," said the once dashing candidate, whose face was horribly disfigured with cysts called chloracne -- a symptom of exposure to dioxin, a chemical doctors found in his blood at 6,000 times the normal level. The chemical made him critically ill. "Even in the hardest moments, I was certain I would survive when I heard that millions were praying for me," Yushchenko says. "I also felt an obligation to live. Dying is not very original, but to live and carry on, that is special," he tells Amanpour.
He recovered enough to begin campaigning again and, after a first vote count was declared corrupt and discounted he won the presidency in a December runoff. It could take years for his health and face to return to normal, however. "People cry when they see my face," he says, "but my country has also been disfigured. Now we'll bring both back to health," says Yushchenko, who knows "it's a huge responsibility" to turn the former Soviet republic into a European power.
One of his first challenges is to expose the plot against him, which he and many believe was the work of the previous government he accused of being corrupt. "I have no doubt [the poisoning] was by my opponents in the government, only they would benefit from my death," he tells Amanpour. An investigation is focused on tracing the poison. "Dioxin like this is produced in four or five military labs in Russia, America and a few other countries," says Yushchenko, whose security service now knows how the dioxin got into Ukraine. "But that evidence is now with our general prosecutor, who must eventually answer that question," Yushchenko says.