She has been one of the most prominent figures in the popular uprising that has shaken Ukraine and driven the country’s president into exile. So when Dr. Olga Bogomolets turned down two offers to join the country’s new unity government, it sent a signal that not all was well between the protest movement and the politicians now running the country.
She is no ordinary revolutionary. She comes from a long line of doctors, so renowned in Ukraine that one of the country’s leading medical schools is named after her great-grandfather. She’s also a popular singer, art collector and founder of a prestigious dermatology and cosmetology clinic.
When protesters took over Kiev’s Independence Square last fall to demonstrate against President Viktor Yanukovych, Dr. Bogomolets rushed to their side and organized a network of makeshift medical clinics for the movement, known as Maidan. And when a group of protesters and police clashed in a deadly confrontation last month, Dr. Bogomolets stood among the corpses in the Hotel Ukraine and became the public face of the grief and horror of that day.
On Friday, sitting in her comfortable office filled with antique chairs and beautiful artwork, Dr. Bogomotets spoke at length with The Globe and Mail about her frustration with the government’s response to Maidan and the pressure she is facing to run for president in May. The new government brought “in a few new faces, but our goal was not to change the faces,” she said. “We are just coming back to what was before, just a different picture, a little bit of a different picture.”
Her first experiences with the new leadership did not go well. Just after Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia last month, opposition party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk began forming a new government and his officials offered Dr. Bogomolets the position of minister of health. She said she would only accept if she could bring in her own team, conduct a thorough audit of the operations and adopt European Union standards of transparency to stamp out rampant corruption.
“The next day in [private] the politicians told each other that I refused,” she said. She also discovered that most of the senior positions in the department had already been filled with political allies, meaning she would have had no real control. A few days later when Mr. Yatsenyuk was about to climb on a giant stage at the square to announce his cabinet to the crowds, he turned to Dr. Bogomolets and offered her the post of vice-prime minister of humanitarian affairs. She declined, knowing that once again all of the department positions had been filled and she would have been merely a token.
“For me it was just a signal not to join,” she said. Like many in Maidan, she is concerned that the Yanukovych team has simply been replaced by another team and that not enough has been done to go after those who killed the protesters and beat up students. “We have two sides of the coin, and we have had one side and then they just turned it to the different side,” she said.
Government officials have not commented on the offers to Dr. Bogomolets. For now she is building her own organization, joining with others to make sure wounded protesters get medical treatment and working closely with the Maidan, which still occupies the square but is coming under pressure from the government to scale back. “Right now we are thinking what steps should we make to change the system,” she said.
Many people are encouraging her to run for president, including some wealthy business people who have pledged financial support. She hasn’t decided if she’ll run, mainly because she’s wary of accepting money that could compromise her. She said she’s also uncomfortable with the dirty politics in Ukraine. “I’m saying if I will [run] I will not play by your rules.”
She has already been the subject of one dirty trick. This week someone leaked a telephone conversation between the Estonian Foreign Minister and EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton, which suggested that the doctor had said both protesters and police used snipers during last month’s clash. The revelation caused an uproar and called the protest movement into question.
Dr. Bogomolets insisted that she did not indicate that protesters used snipers. She simply relayed to the Estonian minister what she saw that day – protesters shot in the head and heart. “What I saw were people who were killed by snipers and only on [protesters’] side.”
While she won’t commit to running for president, she said that she is ready to serve her country. “I understand that we have to do something because if we [don’t] all these people who died, they just died for nothing,” she said. “I’m ready to serve the people. It doesn’t matter how. When God gives you opportunities you have to give your heart.”