KIEV, Ukraine. Jan. 23 -- In a ceremony rich with the symbols of Ukrainian independence, Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in as president Sunday and shortly afterward told a massive crowd of joyous supporters that his inauguration marked "a victory for freedom over tyranny."
"The Ukrainian nation has risen," said Yushchenko in a short address after being sworn in. "We have to work with the people and for the people."
Fireworks explode over Independence Square to mark inauguration of Yushchenko, whose supporters had occupied the square for weeks.
(Sergei Grits -- AP)
The ceremony, in parliament, which began shortly after noon, was witnessed by seven presidents and the representatives of more than 30 other countries and international organizations, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Russia, which had openly backed Yushchenko's opponent, former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, sent a low-level delegation, headed by Sergei Mironov, head of the upper house of parliament.
Yushchenko will visit Moscow on Monday where he will meet with President Vladimir Putin.
The lingering bitterness of the political drama in which Yanukovych's initial victory overturned by the Supreme Court and Yushchenko claimed victory in a second runoff election on Dec. 26 was visible on the stony faces of Yanukovych's supporters in parliament, some of whom scowled as the new president was inaugurated.
Yushchenko entered the packed legislative chamber followed by an honor guard of military officers wearing white uniforms who lined the aisles . A choir sang the national anthem before the head of the Constitutional Court invited Yushchenko to take the oath, making him the former Soviet republic's third president since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. After the swearing-in, Yushchenko kissed the 500-year-old Bible he had placed his hand on, made the sign of the cross, then kissed a copy of the Ukrainian constitution, which he also touched as he took the oath.
The ceremony was followed by the singing of a prayer for Ukraine, a hymn that was banned in Soviet times. A mace used by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the leader of Ukraine when it was briefly independent in the 17th century, was returned to Kiev for the ceremony from Poland, where it is kept in a museum. And Khmelnytsky's personal banner was brought from a Swedish museum. Khmelnytsky is historically emblematic of Ukrainian independence, and for many Ukrainians the presence of these relics invoked some continuity between that revered era and the country's expected new path.
"Only now has Ukraine become free," said Oleksiy Piatokha, 78, who said he was a former World War II partisan who fought both Russians and Germans and came to Kiev from the western city of Volodymyr-Volynsky for Sunday's celebration. "I was here for the Orange Revolution and I wanted to come back to see this."
"We can now live in a country where we will wake up and feel our freedom, that we are thriving," said Ivan Kobzarev, an 18-year-old student.
After the first runoff election on Nov. 21, which international observers said was marked by widespread fraud, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians poured into the streets to protest, and Independence Square became the focal point of peaceful demonstrations. The protesters were draped in orange, the color of Yushchenko's campaign, and major buildings in the city, including the former Lenin Museum, were decorated with huge orange banners.
After the swearing-in ceremony, Yushchenko invited everyone in the parliament, including his opponents, to Independence Square, where tens of thousands of people had gathered. The new parliamentary opposition ignored his call, as did the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma.
There was a small group of Yanukovych supporters in the square, but there was no incident as they chanted support for their defeated candidate.
Yanukovych was invited to the inauguration, but left the country Saturday for a short vacation, according to Ukrainian news reports.
"The heart of Ukraine was on Independence Square," Yushchenko told the crowd. "Good people from all over the world, from far-away countries, were looking at Independence Square, at us.