Rhino's Ramblings - The Wave Hits Ukraine

By Robert Thomas Opinion/Commentary

The results were pouring in and throughout Odesa and Ukraine itself there is growing talk of change. A change for the better.

Change from the old political system dominated by the Old Guard of politicians who have ties back into the “good old days” of the Soviet Union. Change to a new world and a new system in how things are done in Ukraine.

The Old Guard in many Ukrainians eyes, especially younger Ukrainians, are a group of politicians who included amongst their numbers is former president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

Poroshenko, who had served in previous regimes, rose to power following the protests in Kyiv's Maidan Square which forced Viktor Yanukovich from power in 2014.

Picking up the ballot papers in Odesa - MJ Independent Photo

Picking up the ballot papers in Odesa - MJ Independent Photo

Poroshenko, who became an instant darling to the West and the EuroMaidan movement, ended up losing his presidency to political novice Volodymyr Zelensky who was a comedian who starred in a tv show Servant of the People. The premise of the show is a disgruntled Ukrainian man takes on the powerful elite and as such ends up becoming president of Ukraine.

It is a true case of art becoming life.

The exit polls conducted on Sunday show Zelensky's Servant of the People Party with 44.2 percent of the vote which is a major win. Just under 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. It is the lowest voter turnout with a 49.8 percent turnout.

But it is also historic first if Servant of the People can form a majority without needing a coalition with another Party.

Zelensky's exit polls are the highest score ever since Ukraine became a country 25 years ago.

We won't know the exact breakdown of the Rada until after the final results are released later this week. But preliminary results show Servant of the People may well have enough support to form a majority.

Early results show Servant of the People on track to a majority and control of the Rada

Early results show Servant of the People on track to a majority and control of the Rada

Ukraine has a hybrid election system.

There is a ballot where you vote for the Party and based upon the percentage of votes received you are elected so many members. Parties must reach five percent support nationally to be elected into the Rada. The Party lists generate 225 members of the 424 members of the Rada.

There is also local or single member district elections which work on a first past the post system which will elect as we have in Canadian elections. People here can run for Parties or as independent candidates. There are 199 seats in the Rada up for grabs here.

The expected results show Zelensky’s Servant of the People Party did not totally sweep away the Old Guard but they gave them a major political drubbing.

In Odesa political heavyweight Sergei Kivalov - despite pulling out all of the stops for re-election - lost against a mainly unknown Servant of the People candidate.

SEE RELATED - Political Dancing In Odesa

The main political players who have been around and once yielded immense power were and are still continuing to be pushed aside and rejected.

Players like Yulia Tymoshenko and her Fatherland Party have for the large part been rejected by the voters. She may have access to Western leaders but it is a huge stretch to declare she has the same access to everyday Ukrainians' hearts.

For many Ukrainians, especially the millennial crowd, desiring change Tymoshenko is part of the problem. She is seen as part of the problem and not the solution she was once seen in the Orange Revolution.

Tymoshenko's major support is largely in Western Ukraine in the area around Lviv.

To go out and say Ukraine is a country tired of war is incorrect. What Ukraine truly is is a country tired of the past.

Udkraine is a country tired of the corruption, ineffective bureaucracy and so many young people leaving to work elsewhere – mostly Poland – with many never returning.

What President Zelensky has done so far in Ukraine is he has set in motion the third Ukrainian revolution.

A revolution, in the minds of many Ukrainians, which is not only going to improve their immediate lives but also radically change the entire political system in Ukraine.

So far, without full support within the Rada, Zelensky has not only helped inspire so many Ukrainians to believe change has finally come he has also delivered in many ways through actions.

The new president has already, at least famously in Ukraine, set the tone of bureaucratic change the country is so desperate for.

Voting was orderly in Odesa - MJ Independent Photo

Voting was orderly in Odesa - MJ Independent Photo

In one case the President publicly asked a higher level bureaucrat why something could not be done. Why could the bureaucrat's department not function as it was suppose to?

The bureaucrat responded he was unable to do anything to which the President responded if you cannot do anything why are you here? Why don't you just resign?

President Zelensky in that one famous exchange has set the tone of his presidency.

It is a tone that there is no more complacent sitting on the sidelines. If you are not part of the solution then maybe you are part if the problem and it is time to step aside.

In Odesa it has played out with not only Zelensky's political party scoring high numbers but also in his paying personal attention to those who locally got on his Party list with hopes of being elected.

A list of many people who are unknowns locally.

In Odesa what President Zelensky did prior to anyone getting on the Party list is he personally vetted and interviewed the candidate.

It was not an interview conducted in order to get people in place loyal to Zelensky’s presidency but rather one to find out what each candidates personal motivations are. Is this a person prepared to work and effectively represent the true wishes of the people of Odesa.

What Zelensky has done in the political arena is created a situation where not only does he expect the bureaucracy to radically change for the better but also the political system as well.

At the polling station I attended in Odesa there were no foreign election monitors, no NGOs, no Ukrainian or foreign media or any significant other organizations but just ordinary people.

It was the same elsewhere in Odesa. Ordinary people are using their right as Ukrainian citizens to monitor the elections.

At one polling station there was one ballot box where an ordinary voter noticed the seal was broken and it simply wired shut. A definite violation of Ukraine's election laws.

When he asked why the seal was broken he was told it was no big deal. Immediately he challenged the election official while taking photos as evidence and placing them on Instagram.

This is an election where people want change and they are prepared to say something to ensure it happens.

How does this all effect Canada and most of all Saskatchewan politics?

How could the things I am witnessing in Odesa Ukraine have an effect on what happens back home in Saskatchewan? Could there be any effect?

In Saskatchewan we have a minister responsible for Saskatchewan – Ukraine relations. The present minister is the Honorable Greg Ottenbreit. His ministry is advised by a committee composed of members who largely trace their roots to Western Ukraine many from the Lviv region.

Many of the positions within the established Ukrainian Diaspora back in Saskatchewan – where 13 percent of individuals checked off Ukrainian ancestry in the last census – are seemingly not based upon the realities of what is happening in Ukraine.

Many in the generational Ukrainian Diaspora in Canada and Saskatchewan were supporters of EuroMaidan and former President Poroshenko. Much of it was based upon swinging Ukraine into the European sphere and religious considerations.

In the dying days of his presidency President Poroshenko personally oversaw the granting of a Tomos from the Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople. A Tomos stripping the Moscow Patriarchy's control of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Poroshenko was pulling out all of the stops in the dying days of his presidency.

Bringing home the Church in a largely Orthodox country was seen by the more nationalistic elements in Ukraine itself and abroad as getting rid of the Russian boot. There was the unspoken policy the State itself would help in taking back the churches where the Moscow Patriarch resides.

With the arrival of the Zelensky presidency the practice stopped.

Zelensky, who is Jewish himself, introduced liberal democratic values into the religious mix.

He met with all religious leaders declaring so long as people were not breaking any laws they were free to attend (or not attend) whatever religious house they desired. People could believe whatever they wanted.

This seemingly Western move has from some of the long-term Ukrainian Diaspora back in Canada has in many ways left them out of touch with the true reality of today's Ukraine. In many ways it could well be described as a voice from the past. A past which is rapidly being swept away here in Ukraine.

It leaves me personally asking are Saskatchewan's and Canada's efforts here in Ukraine even in tune with the reality here?

Canada continues to inject millions of dollars in efforts in Ukraine but a person needs to ask is that aid now needing to be re-directed and if so where? Have the tens of millions of dollars Canada has granted in aid to Ukraine truly been effective?

If Ukraine can run a free and open election – nothing at the present time points to major fraud or irregularities – is it still worthwhile spending millions of dollars to send election monitors here?

The war itself in the Donbass is distant in the minds of most Odessits and Ukrainians themselves. It does not dominate Ukrainian life.

If anything people here want it all to stop. They want the war over. They want to see the government make the changes they have been crying out for the past 25 years.

If you take a tertiary look at the entire situation in Ukraine it seems almost an impossible task.

Last night in Odesa from my balcony I could look out to sporadic residential fireworks in the city. There is no holiday here to celebrate.

When Odesa was quiet and after the last round of fireworks just after midnight you could here across a quiet Odesa someone shout “Slava Bowga! Zelensky!” or “Glory to God! Zelensky!”

Editor's Note - Robert Thomas is in Ukraine this Summer working as a stringer for a group of smaller German publications

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