Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was put on trial on new tax evasion charges Thursday, despite widespread concern about her health as a prison inmate.
Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, is already serving a seven-year prison term after being convicted of abuse of office in a case the West has condemned as politically motivated.
Prosecutors also have charged Tymoshenko with evading tens of millions of hryvna (several million dollars) in taxes while heading an energy company in the mid-1990s.
She did not appear at the trial in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Thursday due to a severe back problem.
Tymoshenko denies all the charges against her and says they are part of a campaign by her longtime foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, to bar her from politics. Yanukovych narrowly defeated her in 2010 presidential elections.
Meanwhile, concerns mounted over Tymoshenko's health and treatment.
Dr. Karl Max Einhaeupl of Berlin's Charite clinic, who has examined Tymoshenko, told the Russian state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper that she was suffering from a herniated disk, was in intense pain and needed urgent treatment at a specialized medical facility.
"I can tell you with full confidence: she is ill," Einhaeupl was quoted as saying in the paper's Thursday issue. "She practically cannot move and is reduced to lying down most of the time."
In a bow to Western pressure, Ukraine's government has offered to treat Tymoshenko at a hospital in Kharkiv, but Tymoshenko said she would only agree to the treatment if the hospital is approved by her German doctors.
The Health Ministry on Thursday cited a report by Einhaeupl and his colleagues as saying the hospital meets European medical standards.
Officials at Charite clinic and Tymoshenko's office declined to comment Thursday.