The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy:
Whereas pro-reform Ukraine pinned its hopes on Yushchenko, the former governor of Donetsk oblast and Kuchma’s last prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, championed President Kuchma’s oligarchic regime. He was also the choice of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who took over from Yeltsin in 2000 and was eager to have an ally, if not a client, in Kyiv. In 2004, Yushchenko and Yanukovych faced each other in the most strongly contested presidential elections Ukraine had seen since independence. In early September 2004, Yushchenko, who was leading the race, fell suddenly and violently ill. With the diagnosis unclear and his life in danger, his aides brought him to a clinic in Vienna, where the doctors came to a shocking conclusion. The Our Ukraine presidential candidate had been poisoned, and the poison was of a particular kind—a dioxin of a strain produced in a handful of countries, including Russia and excluding Ukraine. The correct diagnosis saved Yushchenko’s life. With his face disfigured by the poison and a reliance on heavy medication to deal with the excruciating pain, Yushchenko returned to the election trail, gaining more support.
In late October 2004, when Ukrainians went to the polls to choose among twenty-four presidential candidates, Yushchenko was in the lead, with Yanukovych a close second: each received close to 40 percent of the vote. They then proceeded to the second round, with Yushchenko gaining the support of most of the voters whose candidates did not make it to that stage. Following the second round of voting on November 21, independent exit polls showed Yushchenko clearly in the lead, with 53 percent of the popular vote against Yanukovych’s 44 percent. But when the government-controlled electoral commission announced the official results, most Ukrainian voters were in for a surprise. According to the official report, Yanukovych had won with 49.5 percent of the vote over Yushchenko’s 46.9 percent. The official results were rigged. As telephone intercepts of discussions between members of Yanukovych’s campaign staff showed, they had tampered with the server of the state electoral commission to falsify election results to Kyiv.