Yushchenko was born in the village of Sums'ka oblast' in Khoruzhivka, into the family of a teacher. He studied economics in Ternopil' and afterwards worked as a rural accountant in Ivano-Frankivs'ka oblast'. In 1976, he was hired in Sums'ka oblast's branch of the USSR State Bank and was later promoted to the higher position in Kyiv.
In 1993, he started working in the newly-formed National Bank of Ukraine and became its Head in 1997. As such, he played an important part in the creation of Ukraine's national currency, the hryvnia, and the establishment of a modern regulating system for commercial banking.
In December 1999, Yushchenko was appointed Prime Minister by President Leonid Kuchma. Significant economic progress was made during Yuschenko's cabinet service, though critics argue that this was made possible by the general situation of the economy, and was not the result of his actions. Soon, his government (particularly, deputy prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko) became embroiled in a confrontation with influential coal-mining and natural gas industry leaders. The conflict resulted in a 2001 no-confidence vote by the parliament, which was mainly the work of Communists and pro-presidential groups. The vote resulted in Yushchenko's removal from office.
In 2002, Yushchenko became the leader of the Our Ukraine (Nasha Ukrayina) political coalition, which received a plurality of seats in the parliamentary election that year. However, the number of seats won wasn't enough for a majority, and the efforts to form it together with other opposition parties failed. Since then, Yushchenko has remained the leader and public face of the Our Ukraine group. He is widely regarded as the leader of anti-president opposition in the government, since other opposition parties are less influential and have fewer seats in the parliament.
Yushchenko is married to Kateryna Yushchenko-Chumachenko (his second wife). She is a Ukrainian-American born in Chicago and a former official with the U.S. State Department. Opponents of Yushchenko have criticized her for remaining a U.S. citizen. During the recent election campaign, Kateryna was accused of exerting the influence of the U.S. government on her husband's decisions, as an employee of the U.S. government or even a CIA agent. Yushchenko has five children: three daughters and two sons.
Yushchenko's main hobbies are Ukrainian traditional culture (including folk ceramics and archeology) and mountaineering.
Since the end of his term as prime minister, Yushchenko has become a charismatic political figure and he is popular among Ukrainians in the western and central regions of the country. As of 2001ï¿½2004, his rankings in popularity polls were higher than those of the current president, Leonid Kuchma.
As a politician, Viktor Yushchenko is widely perceived as a mixture of West-oriented and moderate Ukrainian nationalist. He is also an advocate of massive privatization of the economy. His opponents (and allies) sometimes criticize him for indecision and failure to reveal his position, while advocates argue that these are the signs of Yushchenko's commitment to teamwork, consensus, and negotiation. He is also often accused of being unable to form a united and strong team that is free of inner quarrels.
In 2004, as President Kuchma's term came to an end, Yushchenko announced that he was an independent candidate for president. His major rival was Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Since his term as prime minister, Yushchenko has slightly modernized his political platform, adding social partnership and other liberal slogans to older ideas of European integration, including Ukraine joining NATO, and fighting corruption. Supporters of Yushchenko are organized in the "Syla Narodu" ("Power of the People") electoral coalition, which is led by himself and his political ally Yuliya Tymoshenko, with the Our Ukraine coalition being the main constituent force.
Yushchenko's campaign was built on face-to-face communication with the voters, since the government prevented most major TV channels from providing equal coverage to the candidates. Meanwhile, his rival, Yanukovych, frequently appeared in the news.
The campaign was often bitter, controversial, and violent, with accusations of "dirty tricks" from both sides. Yushchenko became seriously ill in early September 2004 and was flown abroad for treatment. He was diagnosed with "acute pancreatitis, accompanied by interstitial edematous changes," said to be due to "a serious viral infection and chemical substances which are not normally found in food products." In other words, poisoning, which Yushchenko has claimed was the work of agents of the government. However, this accusation has yet to be proven. After the illness, his face became heavily disfigured, bloated, and pockmarked, a distinct problem for a politician forced to rely on one-on-one meetings with voters while campaigning. According to British toxicologist John Henry, of St. Mary's Hospital in London, the marks on Yuschenko's face are chloracne, a charateristic symptom of dioxin poisoning. This claim is disputed by other scientists, who have suggested that it might be the result of rosacea, an inflammatory skin condition brought on by stress which can leave the face swollen and lumpy. The Yanukovych campaign have claimed that the "poisoning" was caused by eating bad sushi.