And in the east, charges that fascists from the west were staging a coup were becoming what Tishchenko described as both fraught and predictable. In parts of the region, Yushchenko has been so demonized in the media that some Yanukovych supporters say they believe his victory would mean the end of their way of life.
Yushchenko has been portrayed as the servant of extreme, Russophobe nationalists from the western part of the country who would suppress the Russian language and assault the Orthodox Church, which is under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate. Leaflets found in Orthodox churches have described Yushchenko as a "partisan of the schismatics and an enemy of Orthodoxy."
Yushchenko supporters, protesting in Kiev, have been called Russophobe extremists by backers of the prime minister.
(David Guttenfelder -- AP)
Western Ukraine has a large population of Uniate Catholics; Yushchenko, however, is an Orthodox Christian.
Yushchenko, who favors closer ties with the European Union and NATO, has also been depicted as a CIA stooge, with opposition supporters noting that he is married to an American who once worked for the U.S. government.
Yanukovych's campaign manager said in an interview that it was not responsible for such anti-Yushchenko material.
"Yanukovych supporters are not voting for the prime minister," said Mikhail Pogrebinsky, a political adviser to Kuchma. "They're voting against Yushchenko because they fear the threat represented by the radical nationalists in his team who hate Russian culture. It's a real threat."
In July, Yushchenko expelled Oleg Tyagnybok, a member of parliament, from his campaign after Tyagnybok used strong anti-Semitic and anti-Russian language in a speech commemorating Ukrainians who fought against both the Soviets and the Germans in World War II.
Yushchenko condemned the speech, but it was fodder for his opponents who charge that extremists continue to ally themselves with Yushchenko's campaign.
"Absurd," Buteiko said. "There is no room for such people, and Yushchenko has made that very plain."
Yushchenko supporters, who also trade in stereotypes, say they are no less fearful that a Yanukovych presidency would destroy their lives, according to Tishchenko.
The opposition leader's backers see Yanukovych as the puppet of a post-Soviet elite, centered in Donetsk, that has gorged itself on privatization deals, reaping fabulous wealth from the country's mining and steel industries.
Yushchenko supporters also portray Yanukovych, who reportedly had two teenage convictions for robbery and assault, as a thug whose sometimes coarse language and poor Ukrainian are emblematic of his unfitness for high office.
In some opposition posters, Yanukovych's forces are shown as a boot crushing an insect.
"He will turn the country into a criminal state," said Oksana Sytnik, 37, who runs a small company in Romny, near the border with Russia. "If he wins, I think we have to leave, for Canada or America."
But Yanukovych has also proved himself an astute politician who as prime minister presided over a economy that has grown robustly. This fall, he raised the salaries of public workers and doubled pensions and other social payments, a move that effectively resurrected a dying campaign. He has appealed to Communist voters by saying he would not support land privatization.
Yanukovych also solidified his core constituency by saying he would make Russian an official language and promote an economic union and open borders with Russia.