Saturday, May 31, 2014

5 days after the elections

If you missed the news, elections were held last weekend, concluding in the election of Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine's new president. In a kind of weird way it was similar to the Euro2012 soccer championship as once again this region anticipated a sudden influx of foreigners and jobs for translators and assistants were in demand. If only the events behind all this were as positive as Euro2012...

A group called OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) was invited to observe the elections. According to their website, they coordinated over 1,000 people to work together and ensure the elections are fair. You've probably heard some of the sad stories coming from elsewhere in eastern Ukraine about teams going missing or being held against their will. Despite these stories, several students and friends still accepted positions with OSCE.

One friend landed a 4-day position working with a team of short-term observers, traveling to several small villages in the Kharkiv region. We met up the day before he started the job. "I'm a bit nervous", he told me, showing several pages of words in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. "I need to know all of these! Can you help me go through them?"
As you've probably guessed, I'm not the best person to consult on political vocabulary. There were plenty of words on that list I'd never heard of: Clerk of the Writ, gerrymandering, and a bunch of others that have already flown out of my brain. But we got through the list and he left the following day to meet with the rest of the multi-national team of observers.

He returned from the job in a rush of excitement. I think that although he'd been the most excited about working with foreigners and using English, getting the chance to step out of the city and into rural Ukraine had turned out equally as interesting.

I emailed him a few questions about his 4 days with OSCE:

Can you describe an average day on the job?

Every day was different. 

The first two days we drove from village to village, visiting polling stations and making sure that everything was quiet. The polling stations had to keep the ballots locked and sealed, under the guard of a policeman. Also, we had to make a route for observation on elections day. And since most of the roads in that region were very bad, we had to explore the route first, making sure we could visit 5 or 6 villages and be on time in the town. We drove more than 500 km of bad roads in 24 hours- it was the most difficult part for me. 

The next two days merged into one because we didn't sleep on elections night - the most interesting part for me, as interpreter. Lots of people and many conversations.

What was the overall mood like?

Most of the villages were remote not only by distance. People live on a different planet. They have very closed communities and the last foreign language they heard in their villages was German during WWII. Usually strangers never come there, so people were very much surprised that somebody from another country and another continent took the trouble to come and ask how they were doing. All the people were very friendly and proud of the beautiful places they lived in.

Do you have any favorite or special moments from that weekend? Anything that surprised you?

At one point we came to a small village. I went to find an entrance, which usually meant the back door. When I entered, there was a man in shorts and a t-shirt with a handgun holster on his belt. 
I said I was with the OSCE observation mission. 

He was surprised and asked for my ID. 
I replied that I was not an observer, I was just their interpreter.
He said: "What do you mean? Do you want to say there are foreigners outside?"

"Yes" I said, "two of them."  

"Don't let them in! I need to put on my uniform!" he said and ran, tearing off his shorts and t-shirt. 

As I said, strangers are not expected there.

Would you do it again?

It was an adventure and a five-day exam for me. I would gladly do it again!

Although the elections are over, bits and pieces of it remain. Here's a poster for Oleg Lyashko, who didn't win despite using this wholesome-looking cow in his ad.
"Oleg Lyashko: Ukraine starts with a cow."

This anti-Poroshenko flyer turned up the day before the elections (but didn't stop him from winning the vote). It's still hanging there.
"5 facts about Petro Poroshenko."

Meanwhile, the Google ads are still going strong. This is one of the most alarming new ones-
"Protect your apartment from looters. Peace of mind from 200uah a month."

We came across this sticker near the Marshala Zhukova metro one evening last week.
"Miserable pensions- achieved!"

And so the waiting game for the election results comes to an end, while the next round of waiting to see the results of the results begins.

*For more pictures, check out 5 days until the elections.*


  1. I agree with Jennifer! I really loved the story about the man who flew into a frenzy when he heard foreigners were outside. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Gracias, Cassandra! I can just imagine that scene, it must have been pretty funny to be there :p

  2. As always a great view from the ground, where your feet are very well planted.

    Re-posted through my aggregated blog:

    1. Thank you, Rupert. Mundane is much better than the devastating adjectives that apply to other parts of the east, isn't it? : ) Hoping for continued mundaneness!

  3. The last photo. It's not: "Miserable pensions - achieved!", it's ""Miserable pensions - we're fed up with them!"