War-weary Ukrainians go to polls. Will pro-Western politicians prevail? (+video)
Sunday's parliamentary election follows a chaotic year of political revolt, separatist uprisings, and mounting tensions with Russia. Results are expected Monday.
Ukrainians seemed to be moved more by hope than expectation as they voted Sunday in emergency parliamentary polls ordered by President Petro Poroshenko to complete "a full reset of power" in his war-hit and economically-stricken country.
Many voters in this agricultural area about an hour west of Kiev seemed wary of predicting post-election improvements. Most said they hoped a new parliament would take steps to restore peace in eastern Ukraine, provide more stable governance, and tackle the spiraling cost of living.
"I really wish things would finally calm down, and we could see some improvements. I'm not sure that's going to happen, but one should come out and vote, shouldn't one?" says Svetlana Zavadskaya, a medical researcher, who cast her ballot in a local school.
Almost 30 different parties are on the ballot, including the Communists and the ultra-nationalist Right Sector, but only a handful are expected to clear the 5 percent hurdle needed to take seats in parliament.
Pro-Western lawmakers are likely to dominate; the biggest losers would be former allies of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown last February by a popular revolt that ushered in a period of chaos and led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a rash of separatist uprisings in the east.
Ms. Zavadskaya said she voted for the bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, a fiery populist and former prime minister who spent three years in prison under Mr. Yanukovych. Others said they voted for the bloc of Mr. Poroshenko, who has embraced a tentative truce with eastern rebels, engaged in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and is trying to work a deal with Russia's Gazprom to ensure that Ukrainians get enough natural gas this winter to heat their homes and power their factories.
"I really want the war to end as soon as possible," says Lida Arpenko, an unemployed single mother who said she voted for Poroshenko's party because she believes the president would need strong support in parliament to make peace and turn the economy around.
"I have a lot of friends in the army, and they tell me there is still fighting going on in the east. I suffer terribly for my friends, and I want the government to bring them home," she says.
Across Ukraine, a country of about 42 million people, 33,000 polling stations opened Sunday. Results are expected by Monday.
"It's been a really long year for these people. The country has been through sharp protests, power changes and war. It's been a terrible year economically. Things are a bit quieter now, but Ukrainians are clearly tired of all these difficulties," says Brian Mefford, director of the Florida-based Committee for Open Democracy, an independent monitoring group that's fielding 100 election observers around Ukraine.
He says the relatively short election campaign has been carried out democratically, and that fewer violations have been observed so far than in previous Ukrainian elections.
Still, the situation remains tense in the country's east, where Crimea and the rebel-occupied Donbass are not participating in the polls. In most parts of the Russian-speaking east, which are under Kiev's control, elections are going ahead. But surveys suggest that apathy is strong in those regions, where most voters formerly supported Yanukovych.
"All Ukrainian voters seem to be pretty skeptical right now, but more so in the east," says Mr. Mefford.