KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Yulia Tymoshenko ended a nearly three-week long hunger strike Wednesday as the imprisoned former Ukrainian prime minister was moved from jail to a hospital for treatment of a severe back condition under the supervision of a German doctor.
The news was likely to allay at least some Western concerns over Tymoshenko's health and handling in prison.
EU officials and some governments from the 27-nation bloc have vowed to boycott the European Championship soccer tournament, which begins in June and is co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Ukraine had to cancel a regional cooperation summit this weekend after most heads of central and eastern European states canceled their visits because of the Tymoshenko case. Brussels also suggested Wednesday that Ukraine's prime minister was not welcome at an event he planned to attend next week.
Tymoshenko, 51, the country's top opposition leader, had been on hunger since April 27 to protest alleged abuse. Ukraine's government has come under intense Western pressure to provide Tymoshenko with suitable medical care.
Deputy Health Minister Raisa Moiseyenko said Tymoshenko was moved from her prison in Kharkiv to a local clinic Wednesday morning. Dr. Lutz Harms, a neurologist with Berlin's Charite clinic, will supervise her treatment at the hospital because Tymoshenko doesn't trust government-controlled doctors.
Harms told the Channel 5 television channel that Tymoshenko has ended her hunger strike and was slowly returning to a normal diet. He said she would first take only water and juice and then gradually add solid foods.
Tymoshenko has been sentenced in October to seven years in prison on charges of abuse of office while conducting natural gas import negotiations with Russia in 2009. The West has condemned the verdict as politically motivated and has piled pressure on Ukraine to free her and end the alleged mistreatment.
Tymoshenko denies the charges and accuses her longtime foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, of throwing her in jail in order to bar her from October parliamentary elections. Tymoshenko was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that forced the annulment of a fraud-plagued presidential election in which Yanukovych registered the most votes.
She became prime minister after Viktor Yushchenko won the court-ordered rerun of the election. But chronic squabbling between her and Yushchenko soured voters on the Western-leaning government and she narrowly lost to Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election.
Tymoshenko also faces other criminal charges and investigations, some relating to her activity about 15 years ago. Three senior members of her government have also been imprisoned on corruption and abuse-of-office charges — condemned as politically motivated by the West.
Brussels and Washington have long pushed Yanukovych to free Tymoshenko, but photos of bruises on her body that appear to corroborate her claim that she was beaten by prison officials shocked the West and led to vows to boycott the soccer matches.
Associated Press writers Maria Danilova in Kiev, Ukraine, and Raf Casert in Brussels, contributed to this report.