Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interview with an Elections Interpreter

The statue of Lenin on the main square of Kupiansk. I have seen a lot of Lenin statues in my life and I think this one is special. Usually they picture Lenin staring forward or pointing with his right hand in that direction, which means showing the way to the better life in the future. But this one doesn't point forward. I don't know if you can tell it from the picture, but his outstretched hand doesn't point anywhere. It is frozen in the middle of some motion. Dancing...? Or he was about to drop the hand down and say "Ok, it didn't work out! Go wherever you want!"

Six months ago, Petro Poroshenko was elected President of Ukraine. The same friend who worked with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) elections observers before is back, this time with stories from last month's Parliamentary election. This was a slightly smaller-scale campaign as the OSCE had 600 short-term October observers compared to May's figure of 900. Two of those short-term observers were lucky enough to work with my friend Timur, a very nice guy who taught himself English over the years while working the night shift at a factory. Below are his words and photographs.

1) Timur, this was your second time working with the OSCE observers. What were the logistics like this time?

I told you the story of my first mission. I thought there was danger from separatist groups who wanted to assault people on elections day in May. But most of the troubles I had were from situations inside my team. On the second day the team broke apart and I had to balance between two observers: one kind and polite and the other rude, unpredictable and selfish.

So my biggest worry was – who were my clients going to be this time? It turned out they were nice people. The rest was easy! Our team covered the same region as the last time – Kupiansk. I had the same driver, Alexander, who knows every road and each village. The same hotel “Oskol” with the best restaurant in town. And I knew many chairpersons in the PECs (Precinct Election Commission). Some of them became members of the DEC (District Election Commission), which was also helpful.
With observers Lori and Robert near the hotel "Oskol".
It was a 5-day mission. Saturday and Sunday were the most difficult. In fact, they seemed to be one long day. We drove from PEC to PEC, village after village, checking things, making notes in special applications, talking to people. After doing 3 or 4 PECs I could do it myself. 
DEC building, Kupiansk.
The most difficult time for me as an interpreter was the night and the day at the DEC. We sat behind the DEC’s chairladies who checked the protocols. Many of the protocols had little mistakes in math, in spelling, sometimes in order of the parties. There were about a thousand PEC members with protocols in the hall and many of them were sent home to correct mistakes. My observers wanted me to listen to conversations and arguments and interpret them right away. They needed to know everything that was happening. 

2) The situation in the Donbas has drastically deteriorated since May. Did this affect your work at all? Was the overall mood of this election different compared to May's election?

Russian flags are not allowed! The war of flags on light poles and walls continues.
Apart from several armed checkpoints, dozens of IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and soldiers taking part in the elections, everything was the same. My impression was that the mood had slightly changed towards the pro-Ukrainian position, or at least it seemed so.

3) Were there any moments on the job that really stood out for you?
On the road.
On Sunday night we drove from the countryside to monitor our last “closing station” in town before going to the DEC. Passing by the village of Pristin, we decided we had time to do one more and dropped by. 

The station was small and cold. I immediately recognized the chairlady, a small woman in her 60s. She also recognized me and smiled. I introduced my observers but she said she was a secretary this time and pointed at the girl standing next to her, “She is the chairlady”. I looked at the girl. Midtwenties, slender, long blond-red hair, long boots on high heels, big hoops in ears, modest smile and a nuclear reactor in each of her black eyes. WOW!!! “WOW!!!” was probably the expression and the smile on my face. 

Still smiling, I went through the usual questions. How many voters were on the list? How many were on homebound voting? How many were added? IDPs? Soldiers? Turnout? How did it go in general? Did anybody have any complaints?... The old ladies in the commission watched me closely, so I didn’t dare to tell the girl she looked ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!

I’m sure she knew it from my smile, but I wanted to tell her in person. So hoping I could meet her later at the DEC, I sat down in the car and we went to the town. 
The night was dark. Not as any other regular dark night you may come across. It was pitch-black! No city lights on the horizon, no light poles along the road, no moon, just our car. It was so unusual that when I saw some glowing clouds above I suggested we stop and look. That was time for another great WOW. The glowing clouds were stars! THE MILKY WAY! WOW said everybody! And they started to name constellations and point in every direction. WOW!!! Staaaaaars!!! Billions of them! It is the one thing to know there are 100,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way and another thing to see it with your own eyes. I am 40 and it’s only the second time I've seen the Galaxy. Second time in my life! Where have I been all this time?!!! 
The city appeared ahead and as we drove I was looking at the road and thinking about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, time travel and the girl named Fenchurch. 
I wish that was our closing station!” I said. 
You liked the stars?” asked Robert.

No, it’s the redhead he's after!” said Lori and smiled. I smiled back. Women always notice these things!

The list of polling stations. Polling station # 630615, Pristin, is the place where the bright stars shine.

4) Has this most recent election changed daily life in Ukraine at all? Has it affected you in any way as a Ukrainian citizen?

No. For governments it normally takes years to produce any changes in daily life, if ever. So it didn’t affect anybody who isn’t directly involved in politics.

5) What do you think is next for Ukraine?

We should work hard and believe in ourselves and in our country. We can do it!


Thank you, Timur, for sharing your experiences with us! I hope you'll continue to find interesting opportunities like this one and get more chances to use your English and geography skills while helping Ukraine.

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