By Richard Balmforth
KIEV (Reuters) - Jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko called on Ukrainians on Saturday to "rise up" at a parliamentary election next month and end President Viktor Yanukovich's "criminal rule".
In a shaky two-minute video filmed at the hospital where she is being held, the former prime minister said she was enduring "a hell", created by Yanukovich, as she serves a seven-year sentence for abuse of office.
Banned from running in the October 28 election due to her imprisonment, Tymoshenko's video showed the 51-year-old's determination to reach her supporters and rally her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, demoralized by the loss of her leadership.
Yanukovich's Party of the Regions and its allies are expected to retain a majority in the election, but they are closely trailed, according to some opinion polls, by a bloc that includes Tymoshenko's party.
In the video, posted on her party's website http://byut.com.ua/news.html, Tymoshenko, who has said the election results have already been rigged, accuses Yanukovich of building a corrupt state aimed at enriching a small group of people in a "single mafia criminal band".
"Today the whole country, sadly, is living under criminal authority. The more they allow this and the further it goes, the more every person will feel this criminal rule weighing on his life," she says, calling on Ukrainians to "rise up at these elections and throw out this criminal gang".
The shaky video shows a man, presumably a member of the prison staff, attempting to block the camera from filming Tymoshenko and asking for the recording to stop. A woman prison guard holds a hand over her face to prevent herself being identified.
With her hair in a single plaited tress across one shoulder rather than styled in the circular braid that became her trademark as the popular heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, a seated Tymoshenko complains about her living conditions.
"Every day, there is not just physical and psychological pressure. Every day here is simply transformed into a hell (for me) - completely consciously and intentionally. This is a direct plan by Yanukovich," she says.
TIES WITH WEST STRAINED
Imprisoned since October 2011, Tymoshenko has been receiving hospital treatment in Kharkiv for back trouble which has prevented a second trial on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion going ahead.
She denies all charges and says they are part of a vendetta by Yanukovich who beat her narrowly for the presidency in a run-off vote in February 2010.
Her prosecution has seriously strained Ukraine's ties with the United States and the European Union which say it is politically motivated and smacks of "selective justice".
Shortly after her conviction, the EU shelved landmark agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine, deals Yanukovich hopes will be unblocked once international monitors give the election a clean bill of health.
But EU and U.S. officials have cautioned that Tymoshenko's continued imprisonment and biased media coverage might weigh on any final judgment of the election by monitoring groups.
Tymoshenko became Yanukovich's nemesis when she helped lead the "Orange Revolution" protests which derailed his first bid for the presidency. She went on to serve twice as prime minister before losing the 2010 presidential vote.
Because of her imprisonment, her party has formed a bloc with another opposition movement, Front Zmin (The Front of Change), led by pro-Western liberal politician Arseny Yatsenyuk, to contest the election.
(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)