Voting for Yanukovych, but unenthusiastically

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Nov. 26, 2009, 11:15 p.m. | Ukraine — by James Marson

Presidential front-runner Victor Yanukovych (left) has long been backed by Ukraine’s richest billionaire, Rinat Akhmetov. Both are shown at the new Donbas Arena in Donetsk, a football stadium financed by Akhmetov. While both men have deep roots in Donetsk
© Courtesy

Disgust with all politicians also high in Donetsk. DONETSK, UKRAINE – In the heart of Donetsk, capital of Ukraine’s most populous oblast, huge banners in the Party of Regions’ trademark blue-and-white read: “Donbas supports Victor Yanukovych.” In the Donbas Arena stadium at the football match between Ukraine and Greece earlier this month, the presidential candidate and ex-prime minister was given a rousing cheer, in contrast to the boos for President Victor Yushchenko.

But while Yanukovych is expected to be a shoe-in with voters in the eastern industrial core, where he started his political career as regional governor, there’s a distinct lack of passion for the candidate. However, other candidates may not be able to capitalize on the less than rock-solid support for Yanukovych.

“I will vote for Yanukovych, but only because he’s from here and he’ll be good for our region,” said Anatoliy Rodchenko, who lost his job at a steel mill because of the economic crisis.

Rather than voting for a candidate they feel is going to transform the country, many Donetskites say they are casting their ballots for the lesser of two evils. “Yulia [Tymoshenko]’s team will steal half the budget; Yanukovych’s team will also steal half the budget, but at least they’ll get something done,” Rodchenko said.

The reason for the antipathy toward politicians, including Yanukovych, is their ineffectiveness. Unfulfilled promises from previous election campaigns have not gone unnoticed.

“Yanukovych always promises to make Russian the second state language, but then he gets into power and never achieves it,” said security guard Olexiy Smirnov. “What’s the promise worth?”

This desire to see results explains the adoration many in Donetsk have for Rinat Akhmetov, the powerful home-grown oligarch, billionaire and owner of Shaktar Donetsk soccer club. The recently opened Donbas Arena, for example, the largest and most modern soccer stadium in Ukraine, was financed by Akhmetov.

“I realize he isn’t an angel, but he gets things built and makes things work. He’s effective,” enthused Smirnov.

The main reason for the antipathy towards Yushchenko also has roots in what Donetskites say is his failure to push through improvements to change the country for the better. “We knew in 2004 that he was no different to the rest of them,” Smirnov sighed. “Now the rest of the country knows, too.”

There is little mention of the “anti-Russian” stance that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev castigated Yushchenko for in an open letter in the summer. The boos that rang out at the soccer match had little to do with his push for the NATO military alliance, or attitude to the Ukrainian language and history, locals said. In fact, his commemoration of the Holodomor famine, in which millions of Ukrainians starved to death in 1932-3, has been well-received. “Should we just wave goodbye to the people who died and forget about them?” said Olena Bublik, a teacher.

“People aren’t bothered about World War II, or even Russia; they are interested in jobs,” she added. “Yushchenko has done nothing to improve our lives.”

The often repeated claims in the Russian and Western press that Ukraine is a country divided between east and west hardly hold up. Even politicians are starting to understand: Divisive issues such as NATO membership and the Russian language used by Yanukovych’s backers in 2004 are conspicuous by their absence from the current campaign.

And there is one feeling that unites the country more than anything – detest for politicians. Yanukovych and Donetsk are no different.

“Our politicians are all the same. I wish we could send them all to an island and forget about them, because then our problems would be solved much faster,” said Rodchenko, the former steel mill worker.

James Marson can be reached at
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Anonymous Nov. 27, 2009, 1:52 a.m.    

This is another reason why Ukraine would abandon the presidential system. Placing all your eggs in one basket if foolish to say the last. If is false and misleading to assume that a direct elected president can represent a nations best interest. Direct election may appeal to the media and give the pretense of being democratic. At the end of the day it is no different then the entertainment provided by a football match. Peoples support for their team is dependent on may factors not of which relate to good governance. A head of state elected by a constitutional parliamentary majority is subject to greater scrutiny and is more representative then a candidate who manages to secure a simple majority of voters voting at an election and just as, if not more, so democratic. Cost Parliamentary election $0 compared to $1 billion for a direct election

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Anonymous Nov. 27, 2009, 5:51 p.m.    

What do you have to say about all the democratic countries which have directly elected presidents? Your comments make no sense.

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Anonymous Nov. 28, 2009, 5:22 a.m.    

Agreed, no sense whatsoever.

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Anonymous Nov. 27, 2009, 4:24 p.m.    

Wishes don't come through unless you make them happen, People have the power to make changes in their lives as well as appointing politicians that will better serve them and the country.

I keep asking myself How is it possible that a convict is a candidate for presidency and people keep on voting for this man. Do the Ukrainian people really know what they want ?

You have an opportunity on Jan.17th to change your life,make the right decision and make it happen.

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Anonymous Nov. 27, 2009, 10:11 p.m.    

Exactly, people in donetsk shouldnt vote for yanukovich when they know he wont carry out his promises, people in kyiv shouldnt vote for tymoshenko when they know she's ineffective. People should vote for someone else, in that yatseniuk has a lot to offer,buts thats just my opinion, i also think that he has doesnt know how to implement them. I definetly support yushchenko, because i like what he's doing in terms of ukrainian culture, because he's a ukrainian candidate, as opposed to some others. I'm not saying for you to vote for him though, I'm saying dont vote for someone who you know wont do anything.

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Anonymous Nov. 27, 2009, 6:39 p.m.    

Excellent comment Guest.

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Anonymous Nov. 28, 2009, 5:21 a.m.    

They will get what they want.

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Anonymous Nov. 27, 2009, 6:38 p.m.    

I liked this quote:

“People aren’t bothered about World War II, or even Russia; they are interested in jobs,” she added. “Yushchenko has done nothing to improve our lives.”


“We knew in 2004 that he was no different to the rest of them,” Smirnov sighed. “Now the rest of the country knows, too.”

This was in reference to Yushenko. I find it interesting how many have kept supporting Yush even tho he has been an ineffective and obstructionist president. However, I think Yanu is far more corrupt and Yulia is also no angel.

It would be nice to see the media strongly support a candidate like Hyrtsenko or Lutsenko who appear quite honest.

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Anonymous Nov. 28, 2009, 5:20 a.m.    

Another Dummy, transfixed by Kremlin propaganda!

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Anonymous Nov. 28, 2009, 7:10 p.m.    

Who is the dummy here?

Perhaps it is you who can't come up with a decent argument except to insult.

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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, 3:44 a.m.    

Anyone who has visited Ukraine in the last 5 years will notice a significant change in the way Ukrainians live. More money is being spent on infrastructure, jobs are available, although often not taken. Ukrainians have never been this well off. See if you can count the number of Mercedes and BMW's in Kiev or Lviv. It would be nice to see the media actually report the truth for a change. I shopped at a local store called Arsen, the Deli was closed, when I inquired as to why it was closed, the manager told me they couldnt find anyone to work. Amazing isnt it?

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Anonymous Nov. 28, 2009, 1:46 a.m.    

I tell you what's going to happen. Yanukovych will be elected with a fairly big margin. He will sign an alliance treaty with Russia or a greater union structure with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. He will sell the gas transport to Russia or create a consortium with Russia.He will be more effective than people think at governing. He will slowly strangle Ukrainian democracy and create his own Ukrainian version of Lukashenko's semi-dictatorship in Belarus and people will accept this because of the improvements in order, public services and the economy. This is tragically what will happen due to Yushchenko's terrible failure. A dreadful fate indeed for our beloved country! Mark my words and remember them well and see how things stand by the time of the next and 'unfree' Presidential elections in 5 years from now!

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Anonymous Nov. 28, 2009, 6:55 p.m.    

Too pessimistic. People thought the same when Kuchma was first elected.

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Anonymous Nov. 29, 2009, 4:41 a.m.    

Much more enthusiastically than for Yushchenko. Yanukovich will do what should have been done 5 years ago, without wasting time on Yushchenko's schizophrenia. One lesson of Orange 'revolution' is that PR is important. It's a new time, and new ideas are needed. Yanukovich needs to bring a competent team of young professionals who would work.

During Yushchenko, nothing and nobody worked. Things were broken and stolen.

No illusions necessary, during Yanukovich some things would be stolen as well - this is a big country - but at least he would bring a much needed pragmatic approach to get many things DONE. Something that Yushchenko and his orange thieves are incapable of doing.

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