Why Ukraine's Former Prime Minister (and Her Hair) Are So Important

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko speaks during a session of the Higher Administrative Court in central Kiev, Feb. 19, 2010. (Konstantin Chernichkin/Reuters)

A momentous deal signed today by Ukraine's parliament put an end to weeks of protests and violence in the country and, perhaps as importantly, freed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, she of the famous hair braids.

The golden crown on Tymoshenko's head has become iconic during the past decade, as she rose to lead Ukraine's largest opposition party and pushed for closer ties to the European Union and severing ties with Russia.

There are YouTube tutorials on how to braid one's hair like Tymoshenko's, and this week, Olympic figure skating commentator Johnny Weir wore his hair in a Tymoshenko braid in support of Ukrainian protesters.

But Tymoshenko's hair comes with a politically charged past, which included a career as a tough businesswoman and time in jail for charges of corruption. According to Forbes Magazine, this is where Tymoshenko's hairstyle comes into play:

To transform her image as the "gas princess", and to help her run for prime minister, Tymoshenko hired an image consultant, who remade her into a modest village teacher, with her folky braided hairstyle and her demure, feminine frocks in light colors. One could write an entire book on just her hairdo, which alludes to Ukrainian folklore, innocence, patriotism, royalty and sainthood.

Tymoshenko served as prime minister of Ukraine from 2007 to 2010 before losing the presidential race in 2010 to the current president, Viktor Yanukovich. Shortly thereafter, she was brought up on criminal charges relating to a controversial gas trade deal with Russia - a case that many critics said was politically motivated.

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison and remained under house arrest until today as part of her sentence. Her hair remained in her signature braids during every court appearance throughout that time.

Today's deal with Ukraine's parliament has finally released Tymoshenko into a population that has spent weeks calling for exactly what she represents: closer ties to the West.

It has also moved up the next elections to be held before the end of this year rather than in 2015. If Tymoshenko runs for office again, she will be pitted against Yanukovich - sporting a bulletproof hairdo with nary a lock out of place - and his political leanings toward Russia.