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Witness to the Ukraine elections

by Archives January 5, 2005

SAINT JOHN, N.B. (CUP) — For Theresa White, the political crisis in Ukraine wasn’t something she experienced by following the news.

It was something the journalist from Saint John experienced firsthand living in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

“The thing I keep thinking about is not only have I lived through this, but that someday my children and my grandchildren will learn about this in history class and say, ‘Hey, my mom or grand-mom was there,” said White.

To help remember and to share with her future children and grandchildren, White has collected little mementos of her time in Kyiv.

“It’s all these little things; I’ve got this CD with all the songs of this revolution that they’ve been playing in the streets. They can bring that to class one day . . . it’s not just words in a history book; it’s a real thing.”

Loud chants over megaphones of “Yushchenko, Yushchenko” and firecrackers could be heard in the background as White talked on her cell phone in central Kyiv on Dec. 27, a day after the second presidential election.

Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-West liberal candidate defeated Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, who was strongly backed by Russia, with 52 per cent of the vote; Yanukovich garnered 44 per cent. The final tally gave Yushchenko a margin of 2.3 million votes.

The mood in Kyiv was upbeat, with many residents happy about Yushchenko’s win.

“They wanted Yushchenko to win,” White said. “This is a cosmopolitan city, and the West wanted him to win. The East was more Yanukovich-leaning, so I don’t think they’ll be celebrating too much right now.”

White is in Ukraine on a paid internship with the Kyiv Post, a community newspaper. The internship was paid for by the Canadian International Development Agency and organized by the John Howard Society.

White graduated from the University of New Brunswick at Saint John in 2004, after majoring in international studies and sociology.

She arrived Oct. 20, just before the presidential election was set to end, Oct. 31.

“I knew that there was an election; I knew there would be issues; I didn’t think it would be this huge.”

The controversy over the disputed October presidential election led to massive protests and eventually to Ukraine’s Supreme Court ordering a new vote based on evidence of fraud and voter intimidation.

White described the subsequent protests as huge parties.

“People are happy, they’re waving flags, there’s concerts going on all day . . . people are sharing drinks and laughing, at least in this city.”

Although White’s time in the Ukraine has been very positive, her fellow intern, Sylvain Roussel, was beaten Nov. 29 when a group of men attacked some of the protesters. Roussel, also from New Brunswick, was struck with a club to his head.

He’s recovered from his injury and returned to the province at the end of December. White is scheduled to return at the end of March.

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