Disappointment, pessimism high among nation’s voters

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Jan. 15, 2010, 1:36 a.m. | Ukraine — by Kateryna Grushenko

Femen, an organization that usually protests sex tourism, on Oct. 18 lodged a protest alleging that the nation's politicians don't do anything useful except bombard citizens with political advertisements.
© (Yaroslav Debelyi)

Mood most grim in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainians are getting ready to vote in the Jan. 17 presidential election in a mood as grim as a long Siberian winter. Worn out by economic hardships and political unrest, nearly 60 percent of Ukrainians nationwide rated their social and economic condition as “bad or very bad,” according to the Institute of Social and Political Psychology of Ukraine.

Pessimism especially flourishes in eastern Ukraine, the center of the nation’s hard-hit metallurgy, coal-mining and chemical production sectors. More than 63 percent there are dissatisfied. Eastern Ukraine has traditionally offered the strongest support for ex-Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych, the presidential front-runner in the upcoming presidential elections. But as the economy remains tattered, he is losing trust.

“I, my wife and my sons will not vote for Yanukovych. We don’t believe him anymore,” said coal miner Mykhailo Maliuk. “Many mines were closed, others were privatized and their owners leave it up to them to pay or not to pay their workers. It was like that when the government owned the mines.”

The opinion is not universally shared as Yanukovych remains the clear front-runner in the presidential race.

In general, however, many Ukrainians don’t place much hope in the presidential election to bring changes for the better. Nearly half, or 45 percent, of Ukrainians don’t think that their lives will improve after the new president is elected. And about 20 percent expect further deterioration.

The 18 presidential candidates, meanwhile, are quick to promise good times and European standards to a nation that – according to official government figures – spends only Hr 18 ($2.25) per day on food and that has the lowest average monthly salary in Europe ($230).

“We are used to being given unrealizable promises like communism or the kingdom of God,” said Kost Bondarenko, director of the Gorshenin Institute think tank. “People also know that these promises won’t come true, therefore they don’t hold the politicians accountable for their words.”

The pre-election mood is a bit better outside of Ukraine’s industrial eastern region, where only 26 percent are optimistic about their future. In southern Ukraine, for example, 41 percent of those surveyed by the institute are upbeat about their future, slightly more than in Ukraine’s western (38 percent) and central (36 percent) regions.

“People have hopes for the strong leadership of Yanukovych,” said Sergiy Nenakhov, a private entrepreneur from Mykolayiv, a shipbuilding city in Southern Ukraine. “The economy in the south did improve during 2002-2004 when Yanukovych was prime minister. Whether it is his desserts or not, people attribute it to him.”

Maybe it’s the warmer weather or the welcoming sea breeze that makes southerners more optimistic.

“Who loses heart in the south, where we have Odesa and the Black Sea?” asked Ludmila Zelinska, engineer at Mykolayiv’s Zorya Mashproekt, a turbine plant. “Southerners are not spiteful. They are optimistic people and they know that their region has great potential.”

In general, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s supporters are more optimistic compared with Yanukovych’s. The Institute of Social and Political Psychology of Ukraine found that 46 percent of the prime minister’s backers expect improvement in their well-being in the next year compared to 30 percent for Yanukovych.

“There is a difference in mentality between Tymoshenko’s and Yanukovych’s supporters,” said Pavlo Frolov, a sociologist at Ukraine’s Institute of Social and Political Psychology. “They count upon themselves more to improve material well-being, while Yanukovych’s supporters tend to put their fate more into the hands of their leader.”

But the overall pessimistic mood, experts said, is rooted in lack of trust in the nation’s politicians and political institutions.

The Verkhovna Rada, with 450 national parliamentarians, takes the gold prize for the lowest ranking. Ukrainians, or 77 percent of them polled, said they are fed up with idle talk, the war of words and the fisticuffs on display by lawmakers. The silver and bronze among national distrust went to President Victor Yushchenko, with 76 percent, and the Cabinet of Ministers led by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, with 69 percent disapproval.

While dissatisfaction with the overall social, economic and political situation is high, the desire for active social protest among Ukrainians is low. Only 24 percent of Ukrainians will probably participate in mass protest actions, down from the 35 percent who were willing to rally six months ago.

If the presidential election is falsified, only 15 percent of the population said they are ready to stand up for a fair vote. That number is far lower than the previous presidential election in 2004, when almost 40 percent of Ukrainians were ready to take to the streets. Millions, in fact, staged protests as part of the Orange Revolution that overturned the rigged Nov. 21, 2004 election in Yanukovych’s favor. The Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered a new vote that was won on Dec. 26, 2004, by Victor Yushchenko.

“If mass demonstrations are to take place after the presidential election, it will be a tough battle as Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have an equal amount of people who would support their protest actions,” Frolov said.

“In the mood of general apathy, it would be next to impossible for either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko to gather another Maidan [Orange Revolution on Independence Square] unless one of them infuses a big amount of money” to pay cash-strapped protestors, Bondarenko said.

Kyiv Post staff writer Kateryna Grushenko can be reached at
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