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November 23, 2004

A Picture of Ukraine

Ukranian novelist Oksana Zabushko had an excellent essay in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. I can't find the article online, so I'll copy the text here.

For those who are hearing about the Ukrainian run-off elections and post-election excitement, this provides a quick overview of what is going on. Ms. Zabushko's essay very much mirrors what we have observed here, too.

November 22, 2004


Ukraine's Solidarity


KIEV -- On Saturday afternoon, I was going by taxi past the Central Election Committee headquarters. The grand edifice was surrounded by two rows of steel fences, the construction, ironically, copying "maximum security" prisons. Inside, in the courtyard, there are camouflaged armored vehicles, waiting. For what?

"Here they are," said the driver with a wry smile. "Barricaded against us. They must be scared like sh-t now, what'ya think?" He turned his head and gave me a companion's wink. "Their last days are coming!"

There's no need now in Kiev to explain who "they" are, and who "we" are. "They" sit in "their" fortresses, in the government and presidential administration buildings on the downtown core's high hills. "They" stop traffic to let "their" motorcades of black BMWs and model Mercedes 600s rush across the city, and treat "us" as dirt -- or, more precisely, as a cheap labor force enabling "them" to sell "their" steel abroad at the most favorable price for "their" benefit. "They" own the police that beats protesters, the national TV channels that pour tons of lies on "us," and the tax service that pumps money out of "us" for "their" needs, until "we" are left naked as a worm. (Last week, for example, my publisher received an urgent demand from the local tax service to pay, out of the blue, 44,000 extra hryvnas, or about $7,000, and was happy to conclude from this that "they" must have exhausted "their" financial resources for the electoral campaign, and were now panicking.) To put it simply, "they" are the power -- the most widely hated power in Ukraine since Soviet times. And "we" -- we are the people.

* * *

And that's what we are. Never before -- even 13 years ago, on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union -- has Ukraine witnessed such a massive upsurge of national solidarity. People who've always remained politically indifferent and had missed voting in all previous elections, were disseminating self-printed leaflets from the Internet (samizdat is back -- any piece of information was voraciously devoured on the spot!) in public places, and volunteering to monitor the elections on behalf of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. At a peasant food market a merchant first asked who you're voting for -- the right answer (with which you could count on a generous discount) was "Yushchenko," while incumbent Prime Minister's Viktor Yanukovych's supporters were more than likely simply refused service. In the playgrounds children were playing a game called "Yushchenko beats Yanukovych." To quote my seven-year-old neighbor, "in our class Irka alone stands for Yanukovych, and no one wants to play with her." The slogan chanted by protesting students at demonstrations reads in English as "We're together! We're many! We won't fall!" And just how may of "us" there are, one can easily see in the streets. These days Kiev, as well as other major Ukrainian cities, is defiantly demonstrating its political sympathies by wearing orange, the campaign color of opposition candidate Yushchenko.

A special term has come into use -- "The Orange Revolution." It looks like people have dragged all shades of orange, from yellow to vermilion, out of their wardrobes and adorned themselves with them simultaneously -- vests and sweaters, scarves and purses, coats and umbrellas. Orange ribbons flutter everywhere -- on trees, fences, lanterns, and cabs. Drivers joyfully beep to each other, and pedestrians (traffic police included!) salute them with smiles and raised fists. It feels like the capital of three million has been transformed into a sea of brotherly love! The windows of shops are lavishly decorated with things orange. Among my favorites is the stunt of my neighborhood coffee shop -- its windows glow with pyramids of oranges!

Much of this may sound childish. But some call it the awakening of the nation. And the authorities didn't find it childish, either. Every night criminals brought to Kiev by special trains to provoke disturbances slash tires of orange-ribboned cars. On Saturday night, a day before yesterday's runoff, people adorned in orange were attacked. A friend of mine, wearing a ribbon on his coat, was knocked down in a dark alley with two blows -- to his head and kidneys. His even bigger shock, though, was to hear the bandits calling him, in Russian, "a dirty Jew" (my friend is Jewish, and looks unmistakably so) -- the words which seemed to have been long forgotten during 13 years of Ukrainian independence. "Rats," he commented afterwards. "They ran away before I was able to fight back -- just disappeared into the darkness."

That's the way it goes: Days are "ours," nights are "theirs." In the daylight of Oct. 31, we went to the polling stations and voted for the first time in this presidential race -- that is, those of us who managed to wade through all the mysterious "irregularities" in the voters-lists, because of which around three million Ukrainians were denied their right to cast a ballot. This appeared to be good training for a nation striving for democracy. Yesterday, the second time, we arrived at the polling stations far better prepared to protect our rights while in the daylight. By the time I voted, hundreds of multifarious "irregularities" (like, say, busloads of people with absentee coupons running from polling station to polling station to cast multiple votes, people with files of ballots pre-marked for Yanukovych caught red-handed, cases of gunfire and arson at polling stations, etc.) had already been reported by voters calling hotlines from all over the country. I had to wait in line for my ballot for a while: The place was overcrowded, yet somehow strangely silent, and the tension in the air was more than palpable. Everybody knows that the ballots will be counted at night, and that thus "our" part in the elections doesn't exhaust itself with putting a ballot in the box.

* * *

Here I have to clarify one important point. A widespread cliche used by many Western journalists to describe the major collision of our dramatic elections is that the establishment candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, is "pro-Russian," and that opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, is "pro-Western." This version has as little to do with the feelings of an average Ukrainian voter as with those of the belligerents of the Trojan war. Mr. Yanukovych is perceived not so much as being "pro-Russian," but as, first and foremost, being "pro-criminal" -- a Ukrainian Al Capone, who has under his belt two prison sentences for robbery and assault, and publicly uses criminal argot compared to which even the boorish tongue of retiring President Leonid Kuchma sounds as innocuous as a school textbook. A former governor of Donetsk, Mr. Yanukovych in power represents the so-called "Donetsk fellas" -- a business clan with a notorious criminal background. That the latter have close ties with similar mafia clans in Russia seems to be the most immediate explanation for the pre-election outburst of a passionate love between Russian and Ukrainian leaders, an affair of which Yanukovych-as-president had been designed as a mutually satisfying offspring.

I doubt whether we'll ever know exactly how many million Russian petro-dollars were spent on this project, yet it's been afflicted by one crucial fault from the very beginning. It failed to take into account the possibility of a free will being manifested by the people of Ukraine. This is the problem of all authoritarian rulers. After a while, they lose touch with their people, and never really know who they rule.

Leonid Kuchma's presidency has been extremely unpopular. During his last year he has never enjoyed more than 10% of the people's support. His choice as his "successor" of a prime minister with prison terms and 15 spelling mistakes on his CV, with an accompanying uncurbed propaganda campaign by the national media, was taken by only too many as a brazen act of national humiliation not to be borne -- as a sign that the "shamelessness" of the corrupted establishment had reached rock-bottom. It was from my hairdresser -- a Russian-born and Russian-speaking girl -- that I first heard, about a month ago, this vox populi, boiling with genuine wrath. "Who do THEY think WE are?" she kept lamenting while doing my hair. "What do THEY think THEY can do to US? What am I going to tell my son if this gangster makes it to the presidency -- go ahead, sweetie, rob, steal, and rape, and one day you'll become the president of your country?"

One shouldn't play jokes with millions of indignant mothers. A nation with its dignity so deeply wounded constitutes a force not to be ignored. The first round has already proved this. The fraud committed was probably one of the biggest, and the most elaborate in modern history. None of the applied falsification techniques, however, could provide outright victory for Mr. Yanukovych. What the real figures in the first round were, we'll never know. The official result, meant to show the country as "split" between the two men, has only annoyed people more. If you think that of the nearly 12 million of the officially recognized Yushchenko supporters in the first round at least 10 million have never had a chance to see him on TV other than in an outrageous defamation campaign, clearly modeled after old Stalinist (or Goebbelsian?) techniques, you can easily imagine to what extent Ukrainian authorities have lost their credibility with the nation. It was primarily the "if-THEY-hate-this-man-so-much-then-he-must-be-right" logic that has given the Ukrainian revolution its orange color.

The "harsh scenario" implemented by the authorities for the second round leaves little room for hope that the elections will be everything but fair. A week ago, in the long-awaited live TV debate between the "two Viktors," Yanukovych addressed Yushchenko with a statement sounding like an undisguised threat: "The new power has already arrived (!), and you won't squeeze us out!" And it looks like "the new power" means it, no matter what the cost. The pre-election week alone has provided enough material for dozens of horror writers (and for some 15,000 complaints about the violation of the electoral law now in courts!). News reports read like those from an invaded country under the boot of an occupation regime: Arrests and detainments of public activists (over 200 of them), tear gas and clubs used against protesters (with a police promise that "next time we'll use bullets"!), blackmail and assaults (with bullets included!), committed upon representatives of the opposition candidate, the replacement of administrators in "pro-Yushchenko" areas with "obedient" ones, blatantly promising (as in a village in the Sumy region) that "everyone who voted for Yushchenko will be shot by the police," and many other things, more and more reminiscent of Germany back in 1933.

There is, however, one crucial difference. Them "Bavarian fellas" from 70 years ago were also armed with an ideology, which, however pernicious, after all, addressed "the people." The present-day "Donetsk fellas," apart from money, have at their disposal nothing but guns. And it's known that humans, not guns, decide the outcome of any war.

* * *

This fall, history has turned Ukraine into its unique playground, to check whether this truth is still valid in our brave new world. Thirty-five thousand civilians have volunteered at opposition headquarters to guard polling-stations on the night of vote-counting. This seems to be the only way to make sure that the opposition's landslide victory (the most professional exit poll suggests 58% of the votes for Yushchenko and 39% for Yanukovych) won't be turned on its head the next morning.

Such "civil control" proved to be quite effective a strategy in the first round. Wherever electricity was "inexplicably" cut off, people turned on their car headlights to light up polling-stations, so that election committees could continue their work. No ski-masked attackers risked appearing in well-lit, crowded places, in the flashes of cameras. So far, "they" have stuck to the darkness -- however burning "their" desire is to emerge from out of it and fully establish themselves in the open light on Monday morning.

While I'm writing this, my boyfriend is packing his backpack for the night. Crackers, chocolate, water, a thermos of coffee. Camera, a set of batteries. Candles, matches. Flashlight.

We'll be keeping our place lit. It's beautiful, our place. Never before have we realized how much we loved it all these years. And what a painfully powerful, orange-blazing thing wounded love can be.

Ms. Zabuzhko is a novelist and poet.


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Tracked on November 24, 2004 03:45 PM


Well, that was fascinating. Is it too late to pray that the democratic process will be preserved in this?

Posted by: Kathy at November 23, 2004 02:42 PM

The democratic process, as far as the people speaking up, seems to be ongoing. There is no doubt that the vote on Sunday was completely skewed. Today the Ukrainian parliament is deliberating whether or not to accept the "results." Several city governments have already rejected the voting as invalid.

Things have been energetic, but remarkably peaceful. As Hubby left the house this morning to go to the rally he reminded the boys that their job in this election is to pray.

Posted by: TulipGirl at November 23, 2004 03:00 PM

As an American who has lived in Ukraine for close to 6 years, it warms my heart to finally see Ukrainians coming together in solidarity. I have been to Maidan (the central square) to show my support for the opposition candidate. So far everything has been peaceful, but I don’t think Yanukovic and the current administration will give up with out a fight. There is simply too much at stake.

Rumours have it that Russian Special Forces have entered Ukraine and are ready to march on Kiev if the word is given. I doubt this is true, but I do know that the "authorities" have bussed in up to a 1000 thugs from eastern Ukraine to incite violence.

This is an exciting time in Ukraine. I just hope that the will of the people can be fulfilled without any bloodshed.

Posted by: Patrick at November 24, 2004 07:51 AM

What an exciting time for history. You are lucky to be living through such a strange and tumulous period. Good luck on the days and weeks ahead, and keep safe. But don't give up the fight!

Posted by: Sir Mildred Pierce at November 24, 2004 08:56 AM

First I have to say that orange is currently my favorite color. Second, I have to say that as I read your description of what is happening in Kiev, I am somewhat envious.

The Ukranian people know very well the divide between 'us' and 'them.' Ukranians live it. Daily life there is not so separate from political life.

Here in the USA, we have had plenty of cases of vote fraud that have surfaced. Yet we've had little mainstream media coverage.

The fact that people in the Ukraine are willing to 'take it to the street' in the face of a criminal administration speaks volumes when contrasted against the 'give me convenience or give me death' way of living in America.

As of now, I will begin wearing more orange as a statement of solidarity with the Ukranian electorate.

peace, hopefully
freedom, at any cost
live, to dispel tyranny
and die, knowing you did your best to seek the truth.


Posted by: Jackspace at November 24, 2004 08:12 PM

I remember the Prague Spring and fear for you. Then the USA was mired in the Vietnam war and could do nothing to protect Czechoslovakia from the Russian jackboot. Now we have the war in Iraq to distract the USA and Britain. I fear for you but pray that you will be able to protect yourselves from tyranny and emerge as a genuinely democratic republic. I will be ashamed if my country (the UK) recognises yet another gangster president as legitimate.

Posted by: James Wheeldon at November 24, 2004 11:19 PM

Congratulations from California for your widespread rising toward a better democracy. If we tried to march on Washington and to surround the Capitol buildings, the riot police and paramilitary cadres would attack, arrest and eventually fine and/or imprison large numbers of protestors. It is illegal in this country to demonstrate without a permit from public safety agents. Even speaking of unseating the President can bring out the Secret Service or FBI to visit you at your home or work place.

Marsh from the former land of the free.

Posted by: Marsh at November 25, 2004 01:26 AM

On this Thanksgiving day in the United States, folks like us are watching and praying that your quest for freedom from corruption will prevail!
Like that of Ghandi of India, your peaceful resistance will be more powerful than the brute force of corruption.

Posted by: JOHN at November 25, 2004 04:37 PM

People of Ukraine: Up a victory of democracy over Ukraine there were read out days.Everywhere the spirit of freedom is felt. FREEDOM !

Posted by: Andrew at November 28, 2004 05:43 AM

Ukraine Lviv

Posted by: Andrew at November 28, 2004 05:45 AM


Daily news about main events taking place in Ukraine as well as photo reports.

Thank you.

Posted by: Administrator at November 28, 2004 05:44 PM

I heard about the Orange Revolution in news some days back and hit upon your site that gave me a good picture about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

I come from India, where like Ukraine, politics is the heaven to criminals. Almost all of our politians are tainted and have criminal records. While it may take some time for my Indian brothers to realize our power and have an Orange Revolution in India; I wish you all the best and will continue to watch closely the next few crucial days of Ukraine.

Posted by: Aditya Singh at November 29, 2004 02:42 PM

Greetings from Toronto.
I am happy to see that the government of Canada does not recognize Yanukovich as president and announced president elections fraudulent. Our thoughs and hearts are with Ukraine and with those people on Maidan. I only hope there will be no bloodshed and that people of Ukraine beat the criminal menace just like they beat communists. Good Luck!

Posted by: Yurko at November 30, 2004 06:31 PM

I'm a first generation Ukranian living in Canada, and have never had the privelage of visiting my family's homeland, but my entire life my grandparents and relatives have told me stories of Ukraine and what our people went through and just how strong we were to stay together and support each other, I think that this time it is Ukraine's turn to stand up and have what our people want, freedom of everything, exactly what my parents came to this country for me to have. I just want to give my words of support to anyone who is behind the orange revolution and I know the rest of my family feels the same way, we all send our best wishes for a peaceful resolution to the corruption that has befallen the Ukranian too many times. Keep fighting for what you deserve, because no one deserves to have no freedoms.

Posted by: Olivia Dutka at December 1, 2004 02:03 AM

То справді гарно те що там робиться, я сам учасник!

Posted by: wadim at December 8, 2004 12:45 AM

Dear All!
I may be partial, as I'll be voting AGAINST the "revolution". But I'll try to do my best to explain my position.
1) Why do you call this "revolution"? all you can see is Kiev. All the East and South of Ukraine are "blue and white", but you are too lazy - or too partial - to see this. Orange got a very good, the most visible, the strategically important position, that's all.
2) Elections were bad – I agree, I will not stand for the dirty political tricks! But – again – you cannot imagine that ALL 15 million bulletins were forged! I will accept a figure of 1 million – well, why not. And the “blue and white” deserved well this revolution (am I partial?). But – this revolution expresses the will of only ONE HALF of people, no? so when they say that “the nation elected Yushchenko” – well, let’s see the result of the future elections first? And – the other part IS ALSO A PART OF THE NATION, will you grant this?
3) They accuse the eastern regions of separatism. This is only a part of truth. Both candidates have EQUALLY contributed to separatist moods, one in the East, one in the West of Ukraine. And – now the Eastern regions do not speak anymore about SEPARATION. They speak about FEDERATION now, just autonomy, like the Crimea. And – to my mind, it would be fair, as we’ve got quite many differences with the West of Ukraine.
4) They say Yanukovich is bad, Yushchenko is good. But it’s not a Holliwood film! There are no such things in the real life, and even I have long hesitated between the two, as they BOTH pertain to corrupted mafia clans, and I can give you plenty of facts against Yushchenko, if you ask me. But I’m afraid of Yushchenko.
5) So far my arguments were purely logical. This one is not. I know a bit about the technologies he uses to manage and control the crowd, and I’m afraid of him, because – when he has all the power he wants – I cannot imagine what he may do with the country.
You got my email, so if you don’t believe me or want me to explain anything in more detail, I’m open for your questions. I don’t think I’ll be often visiting this page, so better use my mail.

Posted by: Alex at December 9, 2004 10:31 AM

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