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Ukraine: Eastern Ukrainians Talk About Yanukovych

  • Valentinas Mite

http://gdb.rferl.org/48110765-42E4-492E-BBB7-5DAB740092BB_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/48110765-42E4-492E-BBB7-5DAB740092BB_mw800_mh600.jpg A pro-Yanukovych demo in Donetsk The recent election problems in Ukraine have highlighted the country's linguistic and geographic divisions. Citizens of the eastern part of the country -- culturally closer to Russia -- tend to favor Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. While Ukrainians from the western part tend to favor opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Whatever happens, there seems little immediate prospect of bridging that gap. RFE/RL, in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, spoke to some residents of eastern provinces to find out their views.

Kyiv, 2 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The eastern region of Ukraine is widely viewed as Yanukovych's power base.

It's there -- the country's industrial heartland and where Russian, not Ukrainian, is widely spoken -- that Yanukovych won his strongest support from voters.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union, and many international organizations say some of that support was fraudulent. But it's generally conceded that if the election was restricted to areas like Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, Yanukovych would have won easily.
"Every election commission was supervised by a director of some factory. This director was told [by local authorities] to set up an [electoral committee] from people who report to him. He created a commission -- let's say from 15 people or more -- and all these 15 people were his employees. They were afraid of him [and loyal] because he might fire them at any moment."


The reasons are simple. Eastern Ukrainians voted for Yanukovych because they consider him to be one of them. He was born there, worked there, and speaks Russian.

Even his opponents admit he had no need to falsify the election results in Donetsk. Oleg Salodun is a former police officer in the Donetsk region who now supports Yushchenko.

"There are really many supporters of Yanukovych in the Donetsk region, and the opinions of these people without any doubt should be respected," Salodun says.

Salodun says, nonetheless, local authorities improperly exploited the population's fears about the Russian language.

"This is simply a Russian-speaking region, where people do not speak the state language but use the Russian language. But there is no such question raised [among common people] about the status of Russian language [as a state language]. It is being artificially used to create a political hysteria, nothing more," Salodun says.

Others add that, for them at least, Yushchenko was never really popular in Donetsk region when he served as Ukraine's prime minister from 1999 to 2001.

A former coal miner from Donetsk, "Piotr," now living in Kyiv, says that during Yushchenko's period in office, salaries were never paid on time and Yushchenko did not take care of the country's industrial base. Much of that industrial base is in the east of the country. Donetsk region itself provides about one-fifth of the country's GDP.

But Mikhail Serbin -- also from Donetsk -- sees things differently. He says local authorities and industrialists in areas like Donetsk have managed to take the region into their hands. "In a sense the authorities in Donetsk have the same control over people as [President] Alyaksandr Lukashenka has in Belarus," Serbin says.

Serbin points to the way he says the elections were organized.

"Every election commission was supervised by a director of some factory. This director was told [by local authorities] to set up an [electoral committee] from people who report to him. He created a commission -- let's say from 15 people or more -- and all these 15 people were his employees. They were afraid of him [and loyal] because he might fire them at any moment," Serbin says.

Serbin says, in his opinion, independent political parties and media are practically nonexistent in the region where powerful local authorities rule.
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