More than 1,000 Chicago Ukrainians swarmed the Palmer House Hilton Hotel Monday to catch a glimpse of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
Yushchenko, who ran against former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, was elected last December after Ukraine’s Supreme Court ruled that the first presidential election was tainted by fraud. He also survived dioxin poisoning that left his face disfigured.
Orange was the color of the evening as crowd members honored the Yushenko campaign with orange ties, scarves and buttons as a symbol of hope and democracy for Ukrainians around the world.
Yushchenko, whose appearance was co-sponsored by Northwestern and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, spoke about how grateful he was to the Ukrainian-Americans who supported his candidacy and rallied for him both in Ukraine and in the United States.
"The nation has risen from their knees not only by being driven by the desire to see our country free and democratic," Yushchenko said. "We also rose from our knees because you were by us."
The president was introduced by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who praised Yushchenko for bringing democracy to Ukraine and expressed hopes of strengthening economic relations with the country. He also said he looks forward to bringing a delegation of Chicago business leaders to Ukraine.
He said he intends to reform Ukraine’s political and business system, and promised to cleanse the Ukrainian government of the corruption that defined it during the 1990s.
"We have given birth to a new nation where human rights and dignity are respected and the government is on the lookout for the protection of human rights and its citizens," Yushchenko said. "This is the kind of country for which our grandparents and parents sacrificed their lives. Glory to them!"
The Ukrainian leader also commended Ukrainian-Americans for maintaining their cultural heritage even though they are "distant from the homeland."
Yushchenko said the strategic objective of Ukraine is to integrate into the European Union (EU). His administration is working on gaining membership into the World Trade Organization and liberalizing visa policies with the EU and the United States, he said.