Doctors skeptical about Tymoshenko treatment

JUERGEN BAETZ Associated Press Published:

BERLIN (AP) -- German doctors who have examined Ukraine's jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Friday they are "extremely skeptical" that she can be successfully treated for her back condition in her homeland. In Kiev, her daughter said the opposition leader's condition has deteriorated since alleged beatings by prison guards.

The charismatic heroine of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution protest movement is serving a seven-year prison sentence on charges of abusing her powers in a Russian energy deal. The West has strongly condemned the verdict as politically motivated and threatened to freeze cooperation with Ukraine.

Tymoshenko launched a hunger strike a week ago to protest the alleged prison abuse. She claims that guards punched her in the stomach and twisted her arms and legs while transporting her to a local hospital against her will to be treated for her spinal condition.

Karl Einhaeupl, the head of Berlin's renowned Charite hospital, said it is "unlikely" that Ukraine will be able to successfully treat Tymoshenko because the hospital where she is being taken does not have the expertise to carry out the necessary complex and lengthy procedure. Einhaeupl and his team inspected the Kharkiv facility earlier this month.

Tymoshenko has suffered severe back pain since October, but she refuses treatment in Ukraine because "she does not trust the Ukrainian medical system" and fears she will be deliberately infected, Einhaeupl told reporters.

"I appeal to the Ukrainian president to be guided by humanitarian values and let her travel abroad to Europe to receive treatment," he said.

The doctors declined to comment on Tymoshenko's claim that she was abused by prison guards. Einhaeupl said he has seen recent photos of her showing what is "very obvious" bruising but said he couldn't elaborate because the alleged abuse happened after their April 17 meeting.

In Kiev, Tymoshenko's daughter Eugenia told The Associated Press that her mother's condition has deteriorated and she fears the prison will force-feed her.

"After the attack, she was in intense pain," she said in a phone interview. "She tried to resist (being taken to the hospital) and that caused tremendous pain in her back."

She was on painkillers for two days after the alleged attack.

"She is very weak, she hasn't eaten for seven days, only drinking water. Prison officials threaten that they will force-feed her."

"But she is afraid that they can use it (the force-feeding) to kill her or harm her health even more. ... She just lies in bed all the time, she is in a very weak state, she has recovered psychologically, but she feels very week."

Eugenia is afraid that the authorities will try to take her mother to a court hearing tomorrow against her will. Tymoshenko failed to appear at the trial earlier this month due to her ill health.

"I asked her to stop the hunger strike and not to resist if they try to take her to court because they could hurt her even more. ... But she says she has no other choice, that she must do this otherwise they will walk away unpunished."

Germany has been leading the European Union's critical stance on Ukraine over the Tymoshenko case. The government in Berlin is also offering to treat her in Germany, but Kiev has rejected the offer. Recently, however, the Ukrainian leadership proposed that German doctors could come to Ukraine and treat her at the Kharkiv hospital.

But Einhaeupl and his colleague Norbert Haas rejected the proposal, saying it would take weeks and probably months for a team of physicians and specialists to treat her condition appropriately.

"The therapy will take months. A short visit would not yield any substantial results," Haas said.

"I am extremely skeptical that Tymoshenko could be successfully treated in Ukraine, even with the participation of two, three German doctors," Einhaeupl added.

Einhaeupl stressed the doctors are concerned by Tymoshenko's hunger strike, given her already weakened condition. She appeared to be "desperate" during their visit April 17, and begged the German doctors to treat her, he said, adding that her condition had deteriorated significantly since their first visit in January.

"We hope that we can meet and examine her again within the next seven days," he said, noting that this still has to be approved by Ukrainian authorities.

In their evaluation report of the Kharkiv hospital, the doctors say Ukrainian authorities have made great efforts to provide the best possible conditions for her treatment there.

"But Ms. Tymosheko's particular problems of physical and psychological nature, as well as the particular evolution of her illness let it appear unlikely that the therapy there will be successful," the report stated.

Tymoshenko denies the abuse of power charges, saying they are part of a campaign by President Viktor Yanukovych, her longtime foe, to bar her from politics. Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in the 2010 presidential race, has denied involvement in the Tymoshenko case.

Ukraine is increasingly under pressure over its treatment of Tymoshenko. EU officials have threatened her case and those of other jailed oppposition members could derail a planned rapprochement between Kiev and the 27-nation bloc.

German President Joachim Gauck canceled a visit to Ukraine next month on Thursday, and calls were growing from opposition lawmakers for EU government officials to boycott the Euro 2012 football championship that Ukraine will co-host in June.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday Chancellor Angela Merkel's top adviser on foreign policy issues discussed Tymoshenko's case again with Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister Thursday. Seibert said the chancellor keeps herself "very informed about the Tymoshenko case."

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