Who is Arseny Yatsenyuk? And why is his nickname 'Rabbit'?


Ukrainian acting Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk addresses the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, on March 12, 2014.



In just a few weeks, Arseny Yatsenyuk has gone from an opposition leader speaking to Ukraine's pro-Western protesters in the icy cold of Kyiv's Independence Square to being named the country's interim prime minister.

The politician's rise to the helm of a country in crisis may seem unlikely. At 39, he’s one of the youngest leaders in the world.

On top of that, the bespectacled lawyer and economist, nicknamed “rabbit” because of his resemblance to the character in the Soviet version of “Winnie the Pooh,” lacks the image of a tough politician.

Despite that, Yatsenyuk, who was named acting prime minister after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, is considered to have the right skills to steer the country away from geopolitical and economic disaster.

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In a now famously leaked phone call, US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland described Yatsenyuk as the “guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience.”

On paper, he certainly does.

Yatsenyuk's body of experience in public service gives the impression he has been preparing for the current crisis his entire life. 

After entering politics in 2001, his first job was minister of economics in Crimea, the region that has since become the flashpoint of the crisis engulfing Ukraine.

Yatsenyuk went on to serve as foreign minister, speaker of parliament, acting central bank chief and parliamentary leader of the Fatherland Party, which was founded by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (recently released from prison around the time of Yanukovych's ouster).

Yatsenyuk will have to draw on all of his diplomatic and economic skills to resolve the multi-pronged crisis in Ukraine.

In addition to the Russian military threat and the potential secession of Crimea, Yatsenyuk must resolve Ukraine’s deep financial woes and stop the country from going bankrupt. 

On Wednesday, he met with US President Barack Obama to request political and economic assistance. On Thursday, he addressed the UN Security Council, appealing for international help ahead of Sunday’s referendum to decide the future of Ukraine's autonomous region, Crimea.

Yatsenyuk's other major challenge is winning over a public suspicious of his past service in the Ukrainian government, which was widely perceived as corrupt.

If he doesn't win them over, Yatsenyuk’s political future could be cut short by the May 25 presidential election.

Other contenders for Ukraine's top spot include former boxing champion-turned politician Vitali Klitschko and veteran lawmaker and confectionary billionaire Petro Poroshenko, known as Ukraine's Willy Wonka.

Another potential candidate is former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, who has until April 4 to register for the race. She ruled out running for the position of prime minister.

Yatsenyuk ran against his political ally Tymoshenko and Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election.

Yanukovych won the election, while Tymoshenko was put on trial for abuse of office.

While Yatsenyuk and Tymoshenko appeared together onstage during the recent protests, The Washington Post, citing observers, said their relationship remains strained by differences over political visions.

That rift may deepen in the coming weeks as Yatsenyuk fights for both his country and his political life. 

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