A Vote For Normalcy

Letter From Kiev

Ukrainians fill out their ballots in voting booths at polling station in the village of Kosmach in western Ukraine on May 25, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

Natasha Abrosimenkova was not able to vote in yesterday’s Ukrainian presidential election. Because of confusion over the policy for people resettled from Crimea after Russia’s annexation of the territory, Natasha wasn’t able to register in time. “It was a huge disappointment,” she told me yesterday, as we sat in the kitchen of the Kiev apartment where she is staying.

Natasha, her husband Vyacheslav, and their three small children fled Lenino, a village in Crimea, on March 15, the day before the region’s referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. “We knew very well what the result would be,” said Natasha, who is 25 years old. “There were armed men everywhere.” She and Vyacheslav love their country, she said, and didn’t want to take Russian citizenship. Moreover, after pro-Russian forces had taken over the area before the vote, Natasha and Vyacheslav had stopped receiving Ukrainian social welfare payments and were no longer able to operate their business, which had depended on trade with Ukraine. And so they packed up the possessions they could carry, crossed over into mainland Ukraine, and drove to Kiev, eventually finding temporary housing with the help of activists from Kiev's Euromaidan movement. Many of Natasha’s friends and relatives in Crimea have disowned her. They call her a traitor and a Nazi, as Russian propaganda has urged them to do.

Having chosen not to participate in Crimea's sham election, Natasha wanted very badly to cast a ballot in Ukraine’s national vote. She was just one of many Ukrainians who thought of it as an important civic duty and a pivotal moment for Ukraine. In Kiev, people described standing in the longest lines they’d ever seen at a polling site, with waits of up to two hours in hot, stuffy rooms. People were sweaty, dizzy, and tired, but they stayed. Many wore vyshivankas, the embroidered blouses that signify Ukrainian national pride.

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