BERLIN (Reuters) - A hunger strike staged by jailed former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko may become life-threatening although now still in its early stages given her low physical and psychological state, a German doctor who has examined her said on Thursday.
Dr Karl Max Einhaeupl told Reuters Television that Tymoshenko was suffering chronic pain from a slipped disc and this back problem needed to be tackled, but she did not trust Ukrainian doctors because they had botched earlier treatment.
Tymoshenko’s jailing on abuse-of-office charges last year has badly strained relations with the EU and risks becoming a major embarrassment for Kiev on the eve of the European soccer championship that Ukraine will co-host with Poland.
Einhaeupl, one of two doctors from Berlin’s Charite hospital sent by Germany to examine 51-year-old Tymoshenko, said her state had deteriorated since a visit earlier this year.
“She is no longer the courageous and assertive woman we met in February,” he said in an interview. “Her slipped disc is causing her great pain because she wasn’t adequately treated at the start of her illness, causing the problem to become chronic.”
Einhaeupl last examined Tymonshenko two weeks ago, before she began the hunger strike last Friday after accusing guards of beating her up during a forced move to a local hospital.
However, he expressed concern about her condition. “This hunger strike is for sure not life-threatening in the first two, three days. However, given her reduced psychological and physical condition it could reach a life-threatening stage at some point,” he said, describing the once fiery politician as stressed and frightened.
Berlin, which has been particularly critical of Ukraine in a case that European leaders see as politically motivated, has offered to treat Tymoshenko in Germany. However, Kiev fears she might not return to complete her seven-year sentence and wants the German doctors to treat her in Ukraine.
Prison authorities denied she had been beaten but Ukraine’s top human rights official said on Wednesday she was bruised and ordered a criminal probe. Tymoshenko’s arch rival, President Viktor Yanukovich, ordered prosecutors on Thursday to investigate her allegations.
Einhaeupl said her hospital cell in the Kharkiv prison where she is serving her sentence was adequate and he could not say whether she had been subjected to any threats or physical abuse.
“Not all the equipment needed to cure her is available in the (local Kharkiv) hospital but the problem is that Ms Tymoshenko does not trust the Ukrainian doctors because of her past experience,” he said.
Confirming that the Ukrainian side had requested that Charite doctors handle Tymoshenko’s treatment, he said: “We are now pondering here how and if this can be done. In such as case, the treatment cannot be undertaken by just one doctor but requires a team of specialists.”
German President Joachim Gauck has cancelled a trip to Ukraine in May over the Tymoshenko case, though Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has rejected calls to boycott the Euro-2012 soccer championship in protest.
EU justice chief Viviane Reding urged the European football authority UEFA on Thursday to use the tournament to “relay the values to which we are both attached”.
Tymoshenko led the 2004 Orange Revolution which doomed Yanukovich’s first bid for the presidency. She has since served twice as prime minister but lost the 2010 presidential vote to Yanukovich in a close run-off.
Writing by Gareth Jones; editing by David Stamp