Ukrainians hope for a new beginning | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.05.2014

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Ukrainians hope for a new beginning

Ukraine has voted. Residents in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Bila Tserkva experienced the presidential election in very different ways. The frontrunner, Petro Poroshenko has won, but profound problems loom ahead.

Kyryl Savin waited in line in the heat for two hours. The head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation's Kyiv office had to be patient to cast his vote Sunday (25.05.2014), along with the many other Kyiv residents who braved the hot, humid day.

"The level of participation was incredible," Savin said. "People saw this vote as a referendum on Ukraine, on the unity of the country."

But the political analyst also knows that there were other reasons for the long lines, such as the lack of time to organize things, and the interim government's need to save money. During the last election, there were 18 people monitoring his polling station. This time, he says, only 10 were on hand.

"They need more time to take care of everyone," Savin told DW. "They can't manage it as quickly because they're understaffed."

Kyryl Savin (C) private

Kyryl Savin says voting took some patience

But Savin hasn't noticed any major problems with the vote, except maybe a heavy storm that passed over Kyiv in the afternoon and may have put a damper on turnout.

Initial figures suggest that Vitali Klitschko succeeded in his bid to become mayor of Kyiv, while billionaire Petro Poroshenko seems to have achieved an absolute majority in the race for the Ukrainian presidency, obviating the need for a run-off vote in mid-June. But official numbers on the presidential election won't be available until Monday morning.

Chaos in the East

While everything seemed to go to plan in the West, massive resistance to the polls was evident in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. In the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, only a minority of voters could cast their ballots.

"Around 15 percent of the polling stations opened there, and only in the peaceful areas where there are no separatists," Savin said, adding that the separatists boycotted the vote because they didn't believe their candidates stood a chance against Poroshenko.

A line of voters in Kyiv (C) Reuters

In Kyiv, most polling stations were overrun, while many in the East remained closed

Meanwhile, Ukrainian media reported that several thousand Crimeans drove to the border regions to vote. But those are vanishingly small numbers compared to the more than two million people who live on the Crimean peninsula.

Peaceful situation in Kharkiv

In the area surrounding Kharkiv - which is also in eastern Ukraine, but hasn't seen as much unrest as Donetsk and Luhansk - election day seems to have passed without disruption. Marina Miroshnitshenko, who lives in a small village near Kharkiv and works for the German cultural Goethe Institute, was able to cast her ballot without waiting in line.

"It was quiet the whole day - a normal election without excitement," she said to DW. "We're happy about that - we were all expecting fighting."

Miroshnitshenko also noticed Ukrainian election observers checking up on proceedings in her polling station.

Two Ukrainian voters near polling booths (C) Reuters

Many Ukrainians are hoping for more peaceful times ahead

Satisfied observers

Thousands of international election observers were also on duty in Ukraine, including the German Social Democrat Barbara Weiler from Germany, a member of the European Parliament. She was traveling in the vicinity of Kyiv on Sunday (25.05.2014) to monitor the vote.

The election ran smoothly in the city of Bila Tserkva, around 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Kyiv, Weiler told DW: "The polling stations had enough staff on hand, and there were also a lot of Ukrainian election monitors around."

Weiler also monitored the vote in a men's prison, where hundreds of inmates cast ballots, and took part in a "home voting" program, an initiative where election staff travel to bed-ridden or disabled voters so that they can cast their ballots from their homes. Ukraine does not permit absentee voting. "In the past, it proved too prone to manipulation," the German politician explained.

Weiler also found that the mood wasn't as euphoric as 10 years ago, just after the Orange Revolution, adding, "But the people still hope that this marks an end of sorts to the horrible circumstances of the past months, and that a new beginning is on the way."

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