Moderator: Mr. Yanukovych, Mr. Yushchenko, I welcome you to this final debate of the presidential * campaign. I trust that your responses tonight will help undecided voters clear up any lingering questions they might have. In lieu of a coin toss, we agreed backstage that the first question would go to the candidate less ravaged by the effects of acute dioxin poisoning. Mr. Yanukovych, I turn to you: Your opponent has fallen ill at a crucial moment in the campaign. What is your opinion regarding this unfortunate event? Does its timing raise any questions for you?
Yanukovych: I will not exploit my opponent’s staggering toxicity for political purposes in this campaign. [Laughter.]
Moderator: Mr. Yushchenko, you have 30 seconds to respond.
Yushchenko: I think your question is an interesting one, and it raises in my mind three points. Point one: I would like to know why my opponent poisoned me. Secondly, I, too, would be eager to hear Mr. Yanukovych’s opinion on my condition, and the curious fact that it should worsen as our race was getting progressively tighter. The voters should ask themselves if I personally am better off than I was four months ago. If not, why not? My opponent should ask himself the same question as well. Finally, I wonder if my opponent could explain why he poisoned me.
Moderator: Mr. Yanukovych, your response?
Yanukovych: There you go again, Mr. Yushchenko. [Applause.] Look, I think we should try to get away from the same old venomous rhetoric we hear in every campaign. I want to change the tone in Kiev and to end the partisan bickering once and for all. All this talk of who may have been poisoned by whom or who may have secretly called upon the vestiges of the Soviet-era security services in order to block by chemical means the forces of openness and liberalization is simply beside the point. That’s the kind of thing that only matters to the insiders within the Kiev beltway. I think the Ukrainian people are tired of it, and I want to focus on the future and talk about the issues that matter to Ukrainians today.
Moderator: Mr. Yushchenko?
Yushchenko: My opponent simply doesn’t have his facts straight. What’s more, he poisoned me. I find it interesting that he is so quick to invoke the Ukrainian people when he is clearly a Putinist stooge. I would remind the people that my opponent speaks today in Russian, the language of his masters. Also, he poisoned me.
Yanukovych: There you go again. Always with the poisoning. And what my opponent says about foreign designs on our country is simply false. I can’t state this any more clearly: There is no Russian domination of eastern Ukraine.
Yushchenko: My opponent is entitled to his own characterization of our relationship with Russia. But the hundreds of thousands who have thronged the streets represent something that he cannot wish away.I would like to inform my opponent that no matter the challenges placed before me, no matter the known toxins placed directly into my food, I will see this movement through to the end and ensure that the voice of the people is heard. The forces of opposition may resort to whatever skullduggery they like, but I and the ideals I represent shall prove more difficult to dispose of than even the hated Rasputin.
Yanukovych: My opponent thinks he is the next Rasputin, a laughable comparison. I have read a good deal about Grigory Yefimovich. Grigory Yefimovich was a great inspiration to me. You, Mr. Yushchenko, are no Grigory Yefimovich. [Cheers.]
Moderator: Gentlemen, I’m afraid our time is nearly up. Mr. Yushchenko, your closing statement, please.
Yushchenko: My opponent poisoned me. Also, Mary Cheney is a lesbian.
Moderator: Have you anything to add, Mr. Yanukovych?
Yanukovych: My opponent and I have many differences, this is true. He believes in greater engagement with the West, whereas I think we should tend our garden here at home. He chooses to succumb to dioxin poisoning, whereas I believe the human body should be free of toxins. But on this last point we can agree. Mary Cheney is indeed a lesbian.
Moderator: Gentlemen, I thank you for your time.
Correction, Dec. 28, 2004: This piece originally and incorrectly referred to a prime-ministerial debate. Yanukovych and Yushchenko were vying for Ukraine’s presidency. (Return to the corrected sentence.)