Ukrainian voters speak ahead of key presidential poll

Before Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, voters speak to Al Jazeera about which way they will vote and why.

Ivanna Skyba-Yakubova - Ukranian voters
Voters describe mixed emotions in the run-up to Sunday's vote [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]

Ukraine – In Sunday’s presidential vote, Ukraine‘s President Petro Poroshenko will be tested for the first time since he came to power in 2014 on the wave of pro-European protests known as Maidan, which overthrew the country’s Russia-backed leader, Viktor Yanukovich

The opinion polls suggest that he is in the third place, behind opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and the frontrunner, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.

The election ballot will list 39 presidential candidates in the war-torn country.

Al Jazeera spoke to people in the capital, Kiev, the second-largest city Kharkiv, the eastern town of Severodonetsk located less than 40km from the conflict zone contested by pro-Russian forces and Milove, a town divided by a border fence into Ukrainian and Russian territories. 

Here is what they had to say:

Ivanna Skyba-Yakubova, Maidan activist, Kharkiv

The cofounder of the Help Army volunteer group that provided material assistance to the Ukrainian soldiers when the war broke out in the east, told Al Jazeera that she would probably vote for Poroshenko, but reluctantly.


She said she supported the Maidan protests and cast her ballot for Poroshenko in 2014, but she was supporting him this time out of the lack of worthier candidates.

“For me personally, the upcoming election is a torture. Yes, I will probably support the current president, but I will do it reluctantly while feeling ashamed. That’s first of all because of the situation with law and order. The promised reforms have failed,” she said. 

“No revolution brings healthy changes very fast. But there was a huge disappointment with the fact that key things that we were fighting for did not change. All those shady deals between the government and business world, and the criminal business [remain a norm].”

On the other hand, she credited Poroshenko for reforms in Ukraine’s education and healthcare systems.

Politics seems remote for Soboleva, whose town borders Russia [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera] 
Politics seems remote for Soboleva, whose town borders Russia [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera] 

Inna Soboleva, 50, shop assistant, Milove

Soboleva lives in Ukraine’s border town of Milove, built during the Soviet Union on the administrative borderline between Ukraine and Russia. Until recently, the fact that the town belonged to two different countries was not a problem for its residents.

But since ties between Moscow and Kiev broke down in 2014, Russia built a border fence in the middle of the town’s high street, splitting families and friends. 

Soboleva blames Ukraine’s pro-European Poroshenko for Moscow’s move and plans to take it out on him by ruling out voting for him in Sunday’s presidential election. 

“I don’t know who the candidates are. I am not familiar with their candidates. I haven’t decided yet [whether] to go to vote or not. There are a million candidates and I don’t know [who to vote for]. At least I know I will not vote for Poroshenko,” she told Al Jazeera. 

“He messed up enough here. He doesn’t know that Milove exists. If you look from the bird’s eye view, [Russian and Ukrainian sides of town] there is one territorial entity. [The fence left] parents living over there and children over here or vice versa. Now we can’t visit each other properly.” 

Sviatuha says Poroshenko has a good track record as president [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]
Sviatuha says Poroshenko has a good track record as president [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]

Olena Sviatuha, 34, unemployed, Severodonetsk

The mother-of-one, who has spent the past few weeks distributing Poroshenko’s campaign booklets for four hours a day in front of a market in Severodonetsk, says she will vote for the president because he is “authoritative, he is a leader”.

“I understand that our country is corrupt, for now, but still over the last few years, he did more than any other president before him. He has been a real man, he has accepted responsibility for his own actions,” she said.

“He kept all of his promises. It is impossible to fulfil everything because he is not the only decision-maker, there is an international [decision] maker, [Russia’s President Vladimir] Putin is also affecting the situation [in the country].” 

Valentyn is looking for a candidate with socially-orientated policies [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]
Valentyn is looking for a candidate with socially-orientated policies [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]

Valentyn Kopatsiy, 43, IDP from Luhansk, teacher, Severodonetsk

The history teacher with 21 years of work experience, who had to flee his native rebel-held Luhansk city in 2014, said knowing history and being able to compare Sunday’s presidential candidates with historical personalities helps with picking the right candidate to support.

“For me, it is important that the policies of the new president or the candidate were socially orientated. I would like the government to exist for the people and not vice versa,” Kopatsiy said.

“Unfortunately, all of our candidates have very similar campaign programmes. But it is still possible to detect details that make us think twice.”

He said he was not yet sure who he should support on Sunday. But he has a shortlist of five candidates in his head, including Tymoshenko, Poroshenko, Zelensky, Ruslan Koshulynskyi – who is nominated by a coalition of far-right groups – and Ihor Smeshko, former head of the security service.

Candidates' corruption records are of top concern for Reshitko [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]
Candidates’ corruption records are of top concern for Reshitko [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]

Yuliia Reshitko, 26, Maidan activist, Kiev

The communications manager of CHESNO – a watchdog agency monitoring politicians, political parties and their finances – told Al Jazeera that she had a strategic plan for her vote in Sunday’s election.

She said that none of the top candidates deserved her ballot so she has decided to support a candidate who matches her values to encourage his party to participate in the parliamentary elections due in five months. She refused to name him.

Reshitko, who used to work in the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine following her involvement in the Maidan protests, said that she didn’t believe that Zelensky was truly independent, while Tymoshenko and Poroshenko were too corrupt for her.

“I will not vote for a corrupt person because it’s like shooting your leg. Giving a corrupt person another chance is nonsense,” she said.

“And I don’t believe that Zelensky is independent. He seems to be a puppet of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, that’s why I can’t support him.”

Olenchenko sees Ukraine's current government as illegitimate [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera] 
Olenchenko sees Ukraine’s current government as illegitimate [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera] 

Elena Olenchenko, 50, anti-Maidan protester, Kharkiv

The former supervisor in Kharkiv’s penal colony for women, now a pensioner, who took part in anti-Maidan protests in 2014, told Al Jazeera that she is considering staying away from Sunday’s vote.

“I haven’t decided [whether] to vote or not. First of all, I don’t know who to support. The candidates who are positioning themselves as the representatives of southeastern Ukraine, they have done nothing for us,” she said.

Olenchenko also thinks that casting her vote would mean legitimising the government she thinks is illegal “as Yanukovich has not left his office in a proper way”.

“If it was necessary to remove Yanukovich, he should have been removed in a legal way. Seizure of government buildings is not acceptable. I came out to protest against it in 2014 to express my civil duty,” she said.

Maliutin will be casting his first ever vote on Sunday [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]
Maliutin will be casting his first ever vote on Sunday [Oksana Parafeniuk/Al Jazeera]

Serhii Maliutin, IDP from Yenakiieve, Kharkiv

The 21-year-old, internally displaced person who fled Yenakiieve, a city in the rebel-held Luhansk region in late 2014, will cast his first-ever ballot on Sunday in support of Zelensky.

The student of international relations at Kharkiv’s Karazin University told Al Jazeera that Zelensky is the candidate who represents a new generation.

“I like that his campaign programme is oriented more towards the people. He does not have big administrative resources and he is using new technologies to reach his audiences,” he said.

“Look at how other candidates like Tymoshenko and Poroshenko are using campaign tents. We used to have street vendors using such tents in the 90s and early 2000s. Zelensky doesn’t use that. He is doing everything over the internet – Instagram, Telegram, Youtube. He is a breath of fresh air.”

Follow Al Jazeera’s Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter @tamila87v

Source: Al Jazeera