They have not eaten for nine days, nobody cares or listens to their cause, but they are not giving up. At least not yet.
A live video feed of the hunger strikers sitting in front of the Central Election Commission on Pechersk Square is now available here
At least five members of the Batkivshchyna Party, led by ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, were on the eighth day of their hunger strike on Oct. 12. It is a protest against their exclusion as party-backed candidates in the Oct. 31 local elections.
Two women members of the group started eating again, after Tymoshenko visited
their encampment and told them to call off the strike. But five men, led by Volodymyr Podrezov, a Kyiv Regional Council deputy, vowed to continue fasting until officials allow them to run for public office.
Podrezov told the Kyiv Post that he wants to run for re-election on Oct. 31, but officials won’t let him. “The previous leaders of the Kyiv branch of the party have defected,” he said. “They, not Batkivshchyna Party members in Kyiv, are recognized by the authorities.”
After appealing to Kyiv’s territorial election commission and court petitions were ignored, Podrezov and several other party members decided to stop eating.
Getting noticed hasn’t been easy.
“The authorities first tried to block us from view. They then began trying to demoralize us. On the first day, they promptly erected a large stage, opened an outdoor food market and surrounded our tent with portable toilets. On the second day, vendors began selling fresh sausage and pancakes outside our tent,” Podrezov said. “On the evening of the third day, two dozen young men in plainclothes surrounded the tent. They left after passersby asked what they were doing. The police did not intervene.”
Election observers say territorial election commissions in Kyiv and Lviv have refused to recognize scores of Batkivshchyna Party members in Kyiv and Lviv as candidates for region and city council seats.
Tymoshenko and other Batkivshchyna leaders have for months accused top government officials interfering in the internal affairs of the party by encouraging party renegades. In an open letter dated Sept. 9, Tymoshenko said Presidential Administration head Serhiy Lyovochkin, Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, Interior Minister Anatoliy Mohyliov and Pechersk District Court had “raided” the party branches in Kyiv and Lviv.
The letter claimed that, on Lavrynovych's order, the Justice Ministry had refused to register the elected leaders of the Kyiv and Lviv regional branches of the Batkivschyna Party. Tymoshenko also said that the Interior Ministry had given new stamps to the previous leaders of these branches who had been expelled from the party - Ivan Denkovych and Volodymyr Maibozhenko.
Andriy Mahera, deputy head of the Central Election Commission, told Ukrainsky Novyny news agency on Oct. 12 that the territorial election committees might yet revoke their decisions and register the right representatives of Tymoehsnko’s party in Kyiv and Lviv, should the court reverse the current controversial registrations.
Tymoshenko herself has told foreign ambassadors in Kyiv on Sept. 11, the official start of the local election campaign, that "Our political force, as one of the most consistent opposition forces, starting from the presidential elections in 2010, is essentially being deprived, oblast by oblast, of the chance to participate in the elections. Yanukovych’s battle against democracy has reached new heights."
“There will be irregularities during the Oct. 31, but it’s too early to predict whether election violations will be systemic, or even deliberate,” Oleksandr Chernenko, chairman of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, told the Kyiv Post on Oct. 12. “More than 100,000 people will be elected.”
It is highly unlikely Podrezov will be one of them.
“We can’t stop our hunger strike now. Someone has to stand up for their rights and show that there is nothing to fear. People today have lost faith that the upcoming elections will be free and fair. And they are afraid. We are Ukrainian citizens with the constitutional right to run for political office. We want people to rise up from their knees, and we want people to stop being afraid. If our passive protest does not produce a result, we will begin active protests, e.g., pickets, strikes, blockading government buildings, and the like,” he said.
Kyiv Post staff writer Peter Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org