Wife of Ukrainian Candidate Speaks Out

Kateryna Yushchenko is the American woman in the middle of the world's biggest political crisis and growing mystery.

Her husband is the Ukrainian presidential candidate from the opposition party suspected to have been poisoned by his enemies -- his has been a startling transformation from a healthy, handsome 50-year-old to an ailing man with a pockmarked face.

Viktor Yushchenko has managed to force a runoff election in his country. This comes after hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to support him last month, when he insisted the country's elections were rigged.

Among those vocal supporters is Kateryna, who grew up in Chicago, and talked to "Good Morning America" from Kiev about her husband's apparent poisoning, the constant threats against her family, growing up as the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants in the United States and what it's like seeing Ukraine on the brink of sweeping reforms.

As a child, Kateryna was groomed to one day return to her parents' native country. They sent her to school to learn about her heritage, she took lessons in the national dance and spoke her parents' native language at home.

"Our parents always tried to tell us all about Ukraine and the importance of our family, and they just wanted us to love the Ukraine," said Lydia Moll, Kateryna's sister.

Kateryna was also groomed for success. "When she was in high school, she was voted most likely to succeed," said Nadia Macconnell, co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. "She went to the University of Chicago and [received an] economics degree, and she wanted to bring that talent and that experience to help the people of Ukraine."

After working for the Reagan administration as an adviser for Eastern Europe, she finally followed her heart to her parents' homeland and devoted herself to helping Ukrainian orphans.

In 1993, Kateryna met the young and handsome Viktor. The two shared a common bond -- their commitment to Ukraine. They married and had three children. But now they are caught in a struggle that has put that commitment to the test, yet hasn't destroyed their spirit.

In a bizarre alleged political plot, Yushchenko's appearance has changed dramatically, and his supporters, including Kateryna, insist he was poisoned by his enemies.

A Bitter Kiss

Kateryna, in fact, says she remembers the night it happened. She says she kissed her husband after he returned from a banquet and tasted the poison on his lips.

"I felt there was something different about my husband when he came home that night," she said. "He had never taken any medicine. He's a very healthy man. I tasted something on his breath, his lips. I asked him about it, [he] brushed it away saying it was nothing. The next day he became ill."

Kateryna says her husband initially suffered from headaches, vomiting and other symptoms, but it took a few weeks before the change in his appearance became apparent. The poison, she says, has reached his bones, but doctors have been able to flush out most of the toxins.

"The doctors assure us that when the poison goes away, he'll return to the way he was," said Kateryna.

Yushchenko recently stood up in front of Ukraine's parliament and said this about his face: "I could excuse myself for my face, but the face really is the face of Ukraine today, because all the poison that has been poured out on the people is similar to what has happened to me."

Kateryna said that when she looks at her husband now -- he was voted the most handsome man in Ukraine at one time -- she, too, sees him as a symbol of the country's suffering.

"I see that he's a man who's fighting for a cause," she said. "He says it's a small price to pay for what we're achieving in this country."

Though no plot has been proven against her husband's life, the couple believes the alleged poisoning can be traced to the highest levels of the government.

"It's the people in power, the people who don't want the system to change," said Kateryna.

And despite the fact that her family has received death threats, she and her children will stay by Yushchenko's side. It is the price they have to pay for democracy, she said.

"No, we're not leaving," she said. "We're a family. We have to be with our father at this time. I think that what gives him strength is coming home at the end of the day and seeing all his children."