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Opinion: European values at stake in Ukraine

Violence is overshadowing the presidential election, but the people in Ukraine want peace and a better life. European Union member states are role models in that respect, writes DW's Bernd Johann.

This Sunday (25.05.2014), a new European Parliament will be elected. Its members have for decades helped insure that those within the European Union live in peace and prosperity. Ukrainian citizens are also voting this weekend, to decide on a new president. However, parts of that country are at risk of sinking into chaos and violence. It's a difficult environment for a free and fair vote to take place.

Most Ukrainians are longing for security - the kind many of their neighbors in the EU enjoy. But peace is on the line. Militant separatists seeking support from Russia are threatening to split the country. While they control only parts of the highly populated eastern part of Ukraine, they are engaging in brutality. Their acts may rob Ukrainians of the freedom to take part in the presidential polls.

Millions want to vote

Despite the difficult situation, Kyiv's interim government is sticking with its plan to hold the vote. The government can't allow itself to bend to the pressure of armed groups. According to Ukrainian law, the vote will still be valid, even if it doesn't take place in a few districts.

Millions are wishing for democracy. They have wanted a new election since corrupt President Yanukovych fled from the country in February after months of protests.

It's no accident that the date was set for May 25 - the same day as the European election. The massive protests against Yanukovych's regime represented a movement in favor of a better life, and for democratic values like those for which the EU stands. That's why all European countries - with the exception of Russia - are supporting the transition process, which must now be legitimized by a democratic vote.

Hoping for a better life

It's to be hoped that the new president receives the most solid base of popular support possible. Petro Poroshenko could be the man for the job, and opinion polls indicate he has the best chances in the election. The successful businessman represents economic competence and a unified Ukraine to his supporters, who live both in the east and in other parts of the country. He has promised people a "new way of life," and apparently seems to be striking the right tone.

His most significant opponents have been faring much worse in opinion polls, including former head of state Yulia Tymoshenko. She polarized the country, which is increasingly unwelcome. Serhiy Tihipko is seen as a representative of the east, and comes from the once-mighty party associated with Yanukovych. However, he appears to have no chance against Poroshenko.

Russia must change

Due to the requirement of an absolute majority, a runoff vote in three weeks is still likely. But there are many signs indicating Poroshenko can become the new president of Ukraine. EU states are role models for him - and he, like most Ukrainians, wants his country to reach out to the EU. However, he also seeks good relations with Russia.

Whether that aim succeeds depends decisively on how the Kremlin reacts to the election. Russia has completely refused to recognize the interim government in Kyiv. After the election, Ukraine will finally have a legitimate president. If President Vladimir Putin really wants to respect the will of the people living in Russia's neighbor, as he says he does, then he must ultimately change his political course on Ukraine. The people there have the right to decide for themselves about their future, without meddling from abroad.