KIEV - Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed by her jailors on Saturday during the dramatic ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich, but an emotional speech from her wheelchair won a mixed response from Kiev's Independence Square.
Cheers and whistles from anti-government protesters reflected the polarizing nature of the 53-year-old former gas magnate, who co-led Ukraine's 2004-05 Orange Revolution but disappointed supporters as prime minister.Her release sets up a possible run at the presidency in an election called for May 25.
To shouts of "Yulia! Yulia" from supporters, and sporting her distinctive blond braid, Tymoshenko was driven out of the hospital in the northeastern city of Kharkiv where she had been held under prison guard while she had treatment for a bad back.
Within hours, the former prime minister was carried in her wheelchair onto a stage on Independence Square, where 82 people were killed this week in the worst violence in more than 22 years of Ukrainian statehood.
Thousands had packed the square after parliament voted to oust her arch-enemy, President Viktor Yanukovich. Having abandoned the capital, Yanukovich denounced what he said was a "coup d'etat" and said he remained the lawful president.
"You have no right to leave the Maidan (square)... Don't stop yet," Tymoshenko told the crowd, wrapped in a thick anorak as rain fell.
She looked tired after emerging from more than two years in prison or hospital, apparently shaking with emotion.
Showing glimpses of the fiery oratory that drove her to power, Tymoshenko shouted: "This is a Ukraine of different people. The ones who died on Maidan are our liberators, our heroes for centuries."