Viktor Yushchenko was born on Feb. 23, 1954 in a family of teachers in the eastern village of Khoruzhyvka. He graduated from the Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute in 1976 and from the Ukrainian Institute of Economics and Agricultural Management in 1984.
As head of the central bank from 1993 to 1999, Yushchenko masterminded monetary reform in 1996, under which a new national currency, hryvnia, was introduced. His efforts in introducing the currency made him known as the "father of the hryvnia".
Yushchenko was appointed prime minister in December 1999, but his government resigned in April 2001 following a no-confidence vote in parliament. After that, he created "Our Ukraine", which became the biggest parliamentary faction in a 2002 election.
Yushchenko narrowly won the first round of voting on Oct. 31, but the advantage was not enough for an outright victory, prompting the Nov. 21 runoff.
After the run-up to the first vote, Yushchenko said he was poisoned with dioxin, which disfigured his once-smooth face. He has blamed the Ukrainian authorities for the poisoning and called for an investigation.
Yushchenko has five children. His second wife, Katarina, was born in the United States. The 50-year-old economist is also an admirer of Ukrainian poetry and an avowed patriot. He once said: "If burning myself to ashes could help Ukraine...I would be happy."