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You're reading: Joao Soares: Big challenges, big hopes as Ukraine nears momentous May 25 election

What brought me to Odesa was my mandate with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has drawn upon all of its reserves to help monitor and defuse the national crisis. That includes preparing for one of the largest election-monitoring efforts in OSCE history. I serve as Special Co-ordinator, appointed by OSCE Chairman-in-Office Didier Burkhalter to lead the more than 1,000 short-term observers who will disperse across the country on May 25 and to deliver our statement the next day.

My trip to Odesa was not my first pre-election visit to Ukraine, nor my highest-level one – I had met with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk just days before and with President Oleksandr Turchynov in March. But of all my trips, and despite the somber backdrop, this one inspired the most optimism. I traveled to the city against the advice of security experts and managed to meet with the city’s acting mayor, members of a local district election commission, representatives of several presidential candidates, and average Ukrainian citizens. Overall, what I saw was a city hit by its greatest turmoil in recent memory, but where earnest and determined efforts to organize for the election continued. That gives me hope that despite unprecedented hurdles, the vote on May 25 will help to stabilize, rebuild, and reform Ukraine and support much-needed national dialogue.

Many wonder how Ukraine will manage to accomplish this: Russia has seized Crimea, two oblasts have held referendums, albeit illegitimate, calling for secession, and violence continues to this day. Those are the facts. Clearly, this is not the context for “just another election.” What is key, then, is how the average Ukrainian responds. More than any administrative challenges that could affect the vote, the country’s citizens will need to show their courage and determination to make this a success. That means realizing the importance of the moment and showing up en masse at polling stations. A large turnout in all regions for this election will make a solid statement about Ukraine’s future.

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