Born in 1954, Yushchenko is a teacher's son who grew up in the tiny town of Khoruzhivka, where he got a job as a banker after graduating from Ternopil Financial Economic University in western Ukraine.

He served as head of Ukraine's national bank as from 1993 and became the country's prime minister in 1999 after surviving a corruption scandal at the central bank.

Dismissed as PM

While many analysts thought that President Leonid Kuchma was preparing him to become his successor, the president instead dismissed Yushchenko in 2001.

Yushchenko then turned to opposition and became head of Our Ukraine bloc, demanding fundamental political change.

His popularity on the Ukrainian street was confirmed when his bloc managed to win enough votes at the following parliamentary elections to seriously challenge the authorities.

Protesting elections

He led protests against what he believed was widespread cheating by the authorities during the November 2004 presidential poll, managed to get the parliament to vote no-confidence in the government, and get the supreme court to declare the election results void.

Yushchenko is said to be an ally of the West who also wants to maintain good relations with the "strategic partner" Russia.

Yushchenko accuses his opponents of trying to poison him, an alleged attempt which left scars and blisters on his face weeks before the crucial vote.