A DAY IN THE UKRAINIAN COUNTRYSIDE AS AN OSCE OBSERVER - GUEST BLOG BY JOHN FOREMAN, DEFENCE ATTACHE, BRITISH EMBASSY IN KYIV

Kyiv
19.01.10


It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning at a small Ukrainian polling station.  The local election commission has given one of their volunteers the honour of being first to vote.  The clock ticks, the man votes to a round of applause and the doors are flung open.  Voters start to trickle into the polling station, trussed up against the freezing weather.

I'm here with an embassy colleague as a short-term election monitor for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe.  Other teams are fanned out across the country.  Our team has been assigned to Cherkasy oblast, situated in the middle of the country and the birthplace to two of the most important Ukrainian national heroes, Taras Shevchenko and Bohdan Khmelnytsky.  OSCE long term observers, who have been working on the area for a couple of months, give us a list of 179 polling stations.  We are asked to visit 10 different locations. 

We decide to visit remote rural areas.  Fortunately the roads are passable despite ice and drifted snow.  Over the day, we cover 250 km, visiting polling stations in schools, sports halls, farm clubs and theatres.  Ukrainian choral music blasts out from one; in another a budding entrepreneur is running a small shop.  Everyone is friendly; one flame-haired commission head thanks us for choosing her station and for supporting their new democracy.  On learning that we are from the UK, some locals try out their English and we are even presented to a class of 10 years to say a few words.  We talk to the heads of the local election commissions to learn of any problems in the run up to the elections and observe the voting.  We then complete observation forms to send to Kyiv to be collated with those from other OSCE teams.

The efforts of locals to vote are inspiring.  Far beyond the reach of public transport, old and young trudge along small roads, determined to make their voice heard.  When one old lady votes and then slumps into a chair, commission members revive her with a stiff drink and warm words. 
 
The polls close at 2000 and we watch the count.  It's been a long, exciting day and everyone is tired.  The votes are emptied onto the table, counted, re-counted and then recorded officially.  When all are content, three commission members, accompanied by a policeman, squeeze into a Lada and race off down the icy roads towards the local district election office to deliver the results.  We follow in pursuit.  On arrival, a huge, jostling crowd from other voting districts is already there.  It’s going to be a long night.  We hand over to another OSCE team who will remain overnight and at 0200 try and find some food.



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