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Tight Election Ahead for Ukraine

Despite pro-independence mood, nationalists admit they may lose presidential campaign

SERGEI ODARICH'S office is a constant whirl of activity. People come rushing in every few minutes with urgent requests. The telephone rings incessantly. At least one person is always waiting outside his door.Mr. Odarich, a young, bearded organizer, heads up the secretariat of Rukh, the "People's Movement of the Ukraine," the main umbrella organization of the democratic and nationalist movement in this republic. His office is the center of Rukh's preparation for the most important election here in decades. On Dec. 1, the eligible voters among the 52-million-strong Ukrainian population will go to the polls to cast two crucial ballots - to decide whether the Ukraine should be independent from the Soviet Union and to select the republic's first president. Rukh's organizers feel relatively confident the referendum on independence will pass. But the presidential election is a different matter. The field for the presidential election is already crowded with 39 registered candidates. Among these, however, only about 10 are known figures. And of these 10, only four are considered politicians of some standing and support. The best known is Leonid Kravchuk, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament and the republic's de facto chief executive. Mr. Kravchuk is a former senior official of the Ukrainian Communist Party who, since being elected head of the parliament last year, has carved out a role for hims elf as a moderate nationalist with ties to both democratic and communist camps.

Alliance divided The democratic alliance that has played a crucial role in pushing the Ukraine toward independence is divided in this election campaign. Rukh's governing board chose between three men: Vyacheslav Chernovil, the radical mayor of the Western Ukrainian city of Lvov; Igor Yukhnovsky, the head of the parliamentary opposition; and Levko Lukyanenko, the head of the Ukrainian Republican party. The man who Rukh organizers say would have been their choice, nationalist leader Mikhail Horyn, has been hospitalized for the past few months. The Rukh board chose Mr. Chernovil as its candidate. But the Republican Party, which represents the more extreme nationalist wing of the movement, decided to mount its own separate campaign. And Mr. Yukhnovsky, whom Odarich admits would garner more votes than Chernovil if the election were held today, is also a registered candidate. Though he will not actively campaign, Odarich worries he may have to back Kravchuk instead of the Rukh candidate. Despite the pro-independence mood in the Ukraine, Rukh organizers admit they face an uphill battle in the presidential campaign. If the election were held today, Odarich predicts Kravchuk would garner 50 percent to 60 percent of the vote, with Chernovil getting about 25 percent. The support for Kravchuk comes despite the fact that he lacks overwhelming popularity among Ukrainians, according to most observers. Kravchuk is a consummate pragmatist, but is viewed with suspicion by many who question how far he has really stepped away from his communist past. Those concerns were amplified during the early days of the August coup attempt when Kravchuk equivocated for a day or two before openly condemning the putsch. He also hesitated when Rukh pushed for suspension of the Ukrainian Communist Party. Rukh leaders say he only agreed with this step when they produced an internal party document seized in Lvov by Chernovil's government, which proved party support for the coup. But Kravchuk has two crucial factors operating in his favor, Rukh organizers acknowledge. One is the continuing strength of the Communist Party apparatus. The other is geography and ethnicity - the battle for the votes of the eastern and southern Ukraine, where almost all the 11.5 million ethnic Russians live and where the appeal of Ukrainian nationalism is weakest. Despite the fact that the Communist Party is formally shut down, "the party structures ... live on, but it is difficult to tell how strong their influence is," Odarich says. According to Igor Sedykh, a veteran Russian journalist just returned from a week's tour through the Ukraine, the party committees, particularly in the east and south, are operating as before. "The party committees have just changed from the ObKom [the regional party committee] to the OblSoviet [the regional soviets]," he says.

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Support for Kravchuk The party does not openly speak against Ukrainian independence, but Rukh organizers believe it will mobilize its still considerable resources to support Kravchuk. They dismiss the split between Kravchuk and the conservative party leadership, though more independent observers see a clear difference between Kravchuk's pro-independence stance and the pro-Union loyalties of party hard-liners. Ultimately, the most crucial factor will be which way the heavily industrialized eastern Ukraine goes. "We can't win without winning in the east," Odarich says. Even Kravchuk supporters concede that Chernovil will take almost all the votes in his home ground of the three oblasts (the county-like divisions of the republic) of the western Ukraine: Ivano-Frankovsk, Ternopol, and Lvov. But taken together these account for only 10 percent of the voters, an amount equaled by just one eastern oblast, Donetsk, the center of the Donbass coal mining region. The industrial areas of Kharkov and Lugansk in the east, Zaporozhye in the southeast, and Dniepropetrovsk in the sou theast together account for about 8.9 million voters out of a total of 37.7 million. For this reason, Chernovil is already concentrating his efforts in this area, traveling to Lugansk oblast Sept. 16 for his first campaign swing and talking to miners and to audiences of thousands in the city of Lugansk. In an interview in Kiev, Chernovil claimed to have made visible progress in easing the widespread fear among the largely Russian-speaking population that he favors "Ukrainization," including elimination of the Russian language. "Those fears are artificially fanned by Communists and by chauvinists," Chernovil said. "I was explaining I am a consistent democrat and support a federative structure in the Ukraine. My world view completely excludes any kind of violence. The process of Ukrainization should be rational."

Economic concern In the industrial east and south, the other main concern is economic because most of the factories there are closely linked to Russia's economy. Since the Ukrainian government introduced an internal customs control blocking the flow of mainly agricultural goods to Russia, the Russians have retaliated by halting gasoline supplies to the Ukraine. As a result, there is no gas for automobiles in a large part of the east, Mr. Sedykh says. Several factories in the industrial center of Zaporozhye are shut down because of lack of supplies from Russia. "People are afraid of the severance of economic ties and personal, family ties [to Russia]," admits Chernovil. He believes that "if they are guaranteed that this society will be open, and only during a transition period [to independence], we need to protect our market, the people will understand this." Chernovil counts on the strong anticommunist feelings, particularly among the coal miners and other industrial workers who have carried out mass strikes in the past two years. Kravchuk's communist past is a liability he will try to avoid by stressing his personality, Chernovil predicts. Rukh organizer Odarich admits Kravchuk has much higher recognition than Chernovil, outside the western Ukraine. "They will vote for Kravchuk because they know only Kravchuk and others are much less known," Odarich says. Still the election is two months away - enough time, Rukh's organizers hope, to get their message across and mount a serious challenge.

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