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Local joins Ukrainians’ wish for the future
The people of Ukraine expressed their hope for a better future through democratic elections last fall with Canadians there to observe the process.
Andrea Malysh was one of a team of on-the-ground observers and she spoke about her experiences at the SOLD (Society for Open Learning and Discussion) meeting Monday.
“People do want things to be different in their country and some of them thanked us for being there. Our mission was to observe and report what we saw about how the parliamentary election was conducted,” said Malysh, who was one of the team of 422 Canadians who were trained to be election observers for Mission Canada Ukraine Election 2012 with Canadem, an Ottawa-based non-profit agency which aims to support peace, order and good governance by connecting civilian experts in a variety of fields with international agencies.
The team was invited by Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych, as, Malysh says, for international acceptance. There are as many as 40 political parties with 22 parties on the ballot for the election.
The 450-member parliament is half elected from candidates from the parties and half from other candidates who may or may not have party affiliation. There are no laws about election spending or disclosure. Presidential elections are held in different years.
“It’s very confusing for voters,” said Malysh, who wanted to be part of the team because of her Ukrainian heritage and her involvement in the Canadian Ukrainian Congress. She is a Vernon resident and is artistic director of the Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble.
When team members arrived in Ukraine, they did further training with observers who were already there and then were assigned in pairs to electoral districts to visit polling places before, during and after the election. Malysh was pleased to be assigned an RCMP security officer as her partner. They went to Odessa, a Black Sea port city.
“Ukraine is the second-largest county in Europe with a population of 50 million and has been independent since 1991. The country is poverty stricken with very poor and the rich, no middle class. We help my family with education for their children because that is the only way to change,” said Malysh. “I was followed everywhere. We were told to be very careful what we wrote in social media and at one time our cell phones were cut off at a critical time.”
Many people, including a lot of young people said Malysh, have hopes for a new, democratic party. The Communist party still has significant support, especially among older people who have never known another form of government. Two of the main election issues were calls for increased wages and pensions.
“Even though I saw irregular things going on before me blatantly, I also saw that people had hopes for their country. Even so, people were nervous about us being there, or believed we had more power than we actually did,” said Malysh, who speaks Ukrainian and has visited and studied in the country several times.
“Speaking Ukrainian was an asset. We were coming to one polling station and I heard someone say in Ukrainian, ‘Hide all the papers.’ People were afraid to speak to us outside the polling stations.”
The longer term observers detected problems prior to the election and more became apparent. Some voting booths had security cameras above them.
One candidate who owned the local media did not allow other candidates any representation and voters’ lists were out of date with many dead people still listed.
“We had to leave one polling station because of danger,” said Malysh.
“At the station we went to after the polls closed, they threw the ballots around and delayed counting them until 1 a.m. They refused us numbers at 3 a.m. and at 6 a.m. We were not allowed to leave the building until after consultations between our headquarters and theirs. All we got was a cup of coffee and I was hesitant even to drink that, it was such a hostile environment.”
Malysh said that a Canadian preliminary report says there are a variety of issues in fairness in the election process. Other parties in Ukraine have requested another election while president Yanukovych, whose party was re-elected with a majority in the 450-member parliament, says the election was fair and it is necessary to have only five recounts.
“It was an amazing experience and I was pleased to be able to take part in this way,” said Malysh.
SOLD was started in 1986 by Elmo and Ruth Wolfe as Open Learning Living Room with home meetings. When membership grew too large, it moved to bigger meeting rooms and now meets at The People Place.
“We try to keep an open mind about things and get interesting topics of all kinds. We have some interesting members and we’ve pretty well all done presentations at one time or another. We like to think we’re never boring,” said Berk Shaw, one of the organizers, with Don Hull and Walt and Linda Duncan.
Norbert Maertens is one of the original members. “It appeals to my interest in learning as an ongoing process,” he said.
Peter Blokker has been a member for 20 years. “It’s an interesting group of people with interesting speakers and it’s also social. Some of us go out for lunch afterwards.”
Xanne Musick started coming to SOLD meetings two years ago. “I like the discussion on anything and everything. There are such stimulating topics. It makes you think about things you wouldn’t otherwise think about. It’s always interesting.”
SOLD meetings take place from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. each Monday at The People Place with speakers on a variety of topics. For more information call Duncan at 250-558-5051.