There seems to be no end to the battery of trials facing Yulia Tymoshenko, the peasant-braided, fiery populist who is indisputably Ukraine's most colorful politician and was also once thought by almost everybody to be the one most likely to succeed.
On Wednesday, a hastily assembled parliamentary coalition drove Tymoshenko from her last official bastion – the job of prime minister – by voting no confidence in her and her cabinet by a majority vote of 243 deputies in the 450-seat chamber.
That final defeat came on the heels of narrowly losing a presidential election last month to her longtime rival Viktor Yanukovich, after which Ms. Tymoshenko cried "fraud" and refused to concede. A few days later, however, she was compelled to retreat from allegations that Mr. Yanukovich stole the election and she withdrew her petition to Ukraine's highest court. However, she continued to declare Yanukovich's victory illegitimate.
Still defiant Wednesday, Tymoshenko insisted that she will not head a caretaker government, as Ukraine's Constitution allows, but will go directly into opposition.
"If Yanukovich thinks that, within a week, he will be playing golf and tennis, while his circle secretly loots the national wealth, then I can say ... they will have to account for their actions to the opposition every single day," Tymoshenko told parliament. "We will keep our finger on their pulse each and every day."
Tymoshenko has accused Yanukovich of being a tool of eastern Ukrainian industrial barons. She has also warned that the new president, who takes a more pro-Russian position than his predecessor and is slated to make an official visit to Moscow on Thursday, might sell out Ukraine's national interests to the Kremlin.
Tough spot for Tymoshenko
But experts say this is a very tough spot for the one-time heroine of the Orange Revolution, who has often styled herself as the only politician who can save Ukraine from its deep political and economic crises.
"The problem for Tymoshenko is that she never has a Plan B, because she never expects to lose," says Dmitro Vydrin, an independent Ukrainian parliamentary deputy and former aide to Tymoshenko. "She is stuck with this situation. She's out of power completely now, but she may find herself not needed among the ranks of the opposition either."
Put on trial?
Members of Yanukovich's Party of Regions say there may be further tribulations in store for Tymoshenko, and hint that she may even be put on trial for alleged misdeeds during her tenure as prime minister.
"Tymoshenko was acting outside the framework of the law, and she has been trying to cover up the traces," says Vadim Kolesnichenko, a parliamentary deputy with the Party of Regions and close advisor to Yanukovich. "We want an international audit to investigate what she did with the loans Ukraine received, and what happened to the country's currency reserves. There are quite a few problems that [Tymoshenko's] government concealed from parliament," he says.
Over the past 18 months Ukraine, a France-sized nation of 46-million, has been hit by an economic tsunami and seen its gross domestic product sink by 15 percent. The International Monetary Fund extended an emergency credit of $16.4 billion to Tymoshenko's government last year, but later suspended it over Ukraine's failure to abide by terms of the loan.
Yanukovich, a lackluster former governor of the coal-mining region of Donetsk, is considered by many experts to be a reasonably competent economic manager who will have to make major compromises with Ukraine's diverse political forces if he hopes to achieve stability.
"Everyone will have to come together and mount a major struggle against this economic crisis. Ukraine is facing an awful choice between default or hyperinflation," says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. "A parliamentary coalition will have to be put together, by hook or by crook, to back the necessary measures," he says.
If no pro-Yanukovich coalition can be assembled from the Supreme Assembly's (Verkhovna Rada) fractious deputies within 30 days, Ukraine's Constitution stipulates that fresh parliamentary elections will have to be called. That could continue Ukraine's stormy politics for months to come.