Authors: Iuliia Zubrytska, Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program Alumnus and a lawyer (Kyiv, Ukraine) and Dr. Markian Shulakewych, M.D., FRCPC, Canadian specialist physician with extensive medical experience in Ukraine (Ottawa, Canada)
In March 2014, Iuliia Zubrytska and Dr. Markian Shulakewych interviewed Maryana Zayats (Winnipeg, Canada), focusing on civil society democratic engagement in the upcoming Ukrainian Presidential elections, first round voting May 25, 2014, and possible second round voting June 15, 2014, and hopefully soon to be scheduled Ukrainian Parliamentary elections, and what Canada, Ukrainian diaspora and Ukrainian citizens can do to enhance, facilitate and realize the voting process.
In light of Russia’s interim illegal use of force and aggressive annexation of Crimea, violence by pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and Ukraine’s further threatened loss of territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, much more robust and concrete measures (than those covered in this interview) from Ukraine and Western democracies are immediately necessary to ensure Ukraine’s survival.
Maryana Zayats, former President of the University of Manitoba Ukrainian Students Association, Aspers School of Business graduate, did a commendable effort by coming all the way from Winnipeg to Ottawa, in order to cast her vote at the Ukrainian Embassy in Canada, together with other members of her student organisation, in the previous 2010 Ukrainian Presidential elections.
What was your motivation to vote?
First of all, I am owing a lot to my dear grandfather Yosyp whose family survived Stalin’s inhuman atrocities, and whose poems and words of wisdom inspire me in my everyday decisions. So it came as no surprise to me as a Ukrainian citizen to fully support the Orange revolution, and now the Euromaidan movement.
Was it easy for you to fly over half of a continent, 2300 kilometres – from the heart of the continent (Winnipeg) to Canada`s capital (Ottawa) – in order to do the voting?
1 Actually we booked our tickets 2 weeks ahead of time. As a result, we arrived in Ottawa first thing in the morning on voting day, and our departure time from Ottawa was 11 PM on the same date.
So I guess that you had plenty of time to complete your voting mission?
Definitely! We arrived at the Ukrainian Embassy, 310 Somerset Street in Ottawa just after 8 AM and voted in a split second.
What is the procedure like? Did you experience any difficulties with the process?
No, not at all. Everything went smoothly, far more smoothly than we would expect. We were particularly concerned that we were not listed in the Voters’ Register. However, after we found ourselves at the premises of the Ukrainian Embassy, we were invited to get our names on the registry list, so that we could go on with obtaining and casting the voting ballot. Secondly, there were no lines of people, and we were free and relaxed to vote at our leisure. The voting procedure was clear.
Did you pay anything for this voting procedure?
No, the process is completely free from any fees whatsoever and it does not imply any other financial or taxation consequences. On the contrary, we received a bonus on that day – our picture was posted on the official web-site of the Ukrainian Embassy in Canada.
In your opinion, what improvements are worth introducing into the voting procedure?
As I am aware, the key problem for Ukrainians voting abroad is travel distance to the nearest voting poll. Ukrainian people living abroad should be able to vote at many Ukrainian churches, schools, and Ukrainian cultural centres, close to their residence.
Ukrainian Canadian diaspora has taken a lead in monitoring numerous prior elections in Ukraine. What more can be done, in your opinion?
I appreciate that effort very much. Ukrainian citizens should be encouraged to vote and be given a reasonable opportunity to do so.
Was it affordable for you as a student to fly down to Ottawa from Winnipeg?
This was definitely an expense, but it was worth every penny. In the end, we managed to find donors and sponsors among Ukrainian Canadian organizations – Shevchenko foundation, for example – who assisted in covering our expenses in large part. My parents also helped cover a portion of the cost.
Wouldn’t it have been easier for you just to vocalize your patriotic ideas in Winnipeg, without voter participation in elections?
I found voting very beneficial because I felt it was very important to have my voice heard and counted. In my case, I was able to see the capital of Canada, the beautiful city of Ottawa.
Ukrainian citizens’ voter turnout in global diaspora in multiple previous Ukrainian Presidential and Parliamentary elections was abysmal, most recently in October 2012 Ukrainian Parliamentary elections.
For example in Canada with thousands of eligible Ukrainian citizens voters, only less than two hundred persons voted at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa, with voter turnout less than 3%! In Europe millions of eligible Ukrainian citizens simply do not vote.
The reasons for this are multifactorial, including voter apathy. In the context of new hope with Euromaidan and new transitional government, how can effective global Ukrainian citizens’ voter turnout be markedly increased?
Ukrainian Canadian organizations and individuals helped me personally to realize my voter participation. So do not lose your chance to vote, while you are still holding this unique bond with your country – citizenship of Ukraine. Please vote and persuade all of your family members and friends living in Ukraine and residing abroad – in Europe, USA, and Canada – to do so!
Please do not turn a blind eye to the land where you are from.
What would be Ukrainian citizens’ explanation for why many eligible voters were previously so disengaged? Is it that Ukrainian citizens possessed the rosy view that everything was already perfect in Ukraine and hence were 100 percent satisfied with the status quo? Or is it that Ukrainian citizens had given up hope for even trying to make a difference through the ballot box? What a grim outlook of both extremes… The hope is that recent dramatic Maidan events have signaled new change within each Ukrainian citizen.
Well-run election is one in which all eligible voters can easily participate, and in which only eligible voters can cast ballots, which are counted accurately and fairly. Maintaining this convenience and integrity through all the administrative phases of each election – registration, voting, counting the ballots and reporting the outcome – ensures a functioning democracy.
Canada and western democracies have stepped up previously to assist Ukraine with significant election observation missions, with more planned. What next?
One person, one vote. Every vote counts and every vote matters. Voting means that there is public interest in trust more generally, as well as goodwill that can spur citizen engagement in any number of community issues. Voter participation matters, as not only hot-button topics
that garner headlines are important, but also more mundane civic affairs engagement builds a country. Over time, the citizenry’s prevailing opinions and engagement influence the rules, standards, and laws that determine so many aspects of our daily lives.
For the reasons above, Maryana’s personal experience is an invaluable practical lesson for all of us going forward in building Ukraine’s civil society. Every Ukrainian citizen, regardless of his/her place of residence is an integral part of Ukrainian people who have to be accountable before their countrymen and exercise their privilege and responsibility to vote. Voting in Ukrainian elections is the minimum of what can be done in the spirit of honoring the memories of those who sacrificed their lives on Maidan for this opportunity. Millions of Ukrainian citizens around the globe must have their voice heard at this pivotal moment in Ukraine`s history, in upcoming Presidential elections scheduled for May 25, 2014, and June 15, 2014, and further Parliamentary and Municipal elections in Ukraine, in order to ensure good governance and blossoming of civil society in Ukraine for today and future generations.
Ukrainian World Congress and constituent organizations should consider further increasing broad based effective voter participation education campaigns as a crucial positive means to build civil society in Ukraine, together with extensive facilitation and marked expansion of current voting opportunities worldwide by the transitional Ukrainian government authorities, and markedly increased direct voter participation globally. Ukrainian Canadian diaspora and its organizations are well positioned to lead by example for countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, USA etc., with millions of Ukrainian citizens eligible to vote around the world.
These steps, coupled with better management by election officials from Ukraine, should boost Ukrainian citizens’ engagement in the elections. With all of these groups effectively collaborating around upcoming Ukraine’s election process, there will be an opportunity for accelerating Ukraine to a new level of civil society development emphasizing combating corruption, strengthening rule of law, democracy, human rights standards, freedom, on the chosen path to Ukraine’s Eurointegration course. Now there is a unique chance for each and every one to improve Ukraine itself. A government of the people, for the people, works best when people show up to vote