We Americans know it’s important to vote but we don’t usually experience quite the sense of urgency about elections that Ukrainians feel right now.
On Sunday, Ukraine will elect a new president and other officials while Russia, their powerful and somewhat menacing neighbor looks on. With pro-Russian separatists inciting violence in the eastern part of the country and several regions voting for independence from Ukraine, the country doesn’t exactly have ideal conditions for free and fair elections.
The outcome of the election—whether a peaceful transition to a new government or what some fear, social and economic decline and more violence—could help determine the country’s fate.
Despite the uncertainty, my friend Mykola Symchych has hope that the elections will bring stability. His Catholic faith has something to do with that hope. On May 25 he will vote for Ukraine’s president as well as for the mayor and city council of Kiev where he, his wife, Tania, and daughter, Olenka, live.
Last Sunday, the Easter season sermon in Mykola’s church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), the predominant Catholic church in the country, was preempted by his pastor’s exhortation for the congregation to be sure to vote after carefully considering the candidates.
Identifying candidates who haven’t been involved in corruption or at least seem committed to avoiding it now is challenging as corruption has been systemic in Ukrainian government. To make matters worse, corrupt officials have simply formed new parties, said Mykola, who teaches philosophy at a UGCC seminary and does research. “They’ve just changed masks but they are the same.”
Good guys and bandits
While Mykola is watching or reading the news, three-year-old Olenka points to images of politicians and public figures and asks, “Is he a bandit or not?” She already knows there are good guys and “bandits,” he said.
But while there is unrest in areas of eastern Ukraine including Donets’k and Luhans’k which have resulted in deaths, and even fears of violence as far west as Kiev, Mykola said the capital remains fairly peaceful. Prices for food and other items are higher.
As he crosses Maidan square each morning on the way to work, it’s quiet compared to a few months ago when Ukrainians held mass demonstrations against the former government, he said. “It is a memorial of people who were killed there though there is no need for rallies now.”
Mykola and his family’s Easter celebrations were a bit more somber this year because of the political situation. The UGCC, though part of the Roman Catholic church normally celebrates Holy Week and Easter with the Orthodox on the Julian calendar instead of with Rome on the Gregorian calendar in order to align with the Russian Orthodox church.
This year however, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox observed the holy days on the same dates, something that occurs about every four years and could be seen as a sign that greater unity among the churches and the country is possible. “This year we were together with all the Christians of the world and it was very pleasant,” he said
Prayer is needed
Christians around the world will be watching as Ukraine elects a new government. Mykola asks us to join Ukrainians in praying for his country.
“We want to ask God to help us make the right choice,” he said. “It is very difficult to make the right choice. Our wisdom is very limited. God knows what is best for us so we have asked him, we have prayed to Him.”
It’s not just about the election, he added. “All our life we have to ask God to help us. “