Monday, November 21, 2005

Reflections on This Day One Year Ago

I remember sitting with Oksana, glued to the radio late into the night. We listened late, quite late, until 1 or 2 AM, to Radio Era. The TV networks were worthless, and we didn't have Channel 5, which you needed a satellite to get in Pidhajtsi (later, as the OR raged, the local Ternopil TV Channel 4 started broadcasting Channel 5 on their channel). There were preliminary reports coming in from all over the country indicating that the authorities had behaved even more shamelessly in the runoff than they had in the first round on Oct. 31. I recall Oksana saying, wearily,"Something has to happen tomorrow," as she went off to bed. Something did happen "tomorrow." You can read here (scroll down to the piece about Berezhany) what we saw the next day as we got up after only 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

I recall that it was a restless sleep for me. And I remember Oksana telling me the next morning about bad dreams, but I don't remember their content. It was before 8 AM when I got out of bed, not being able to sleep anymore, and went back to the radio again. She was already hunched before it, listening with a look of disbelief.

Oksana has recently told me that last year, in the days before the Nov. 21 election, she had led herself to believe that the authorities would cooperate with the people. She said that she knows that it was a bit loony to think so, especially in light of the budget worker scandal that occured that week; however, she said that at the time, she had to believe. She had to believe in the possibility of a Yushchenko victory. She had to believe that the real lunacy was going to come to an end. . .

I remember asking her how she felt after she voted that day--last year, Nov. 21. She said something like, "Proud, like I never have before; proud of my country, or something like that; I don't know. . ."
Oksana Kolodnytska Outside the Tent Camp in Kyiv

I had thought about becoming an election observer, but then decided that I wanted to be with the family and friends with whom I had grown close in my months in Pidhajtsi. Oksana's father, Hryts Kolodnytskyj (my father's cousin) had told me that he adopted me and considered himself to be my father in Ukraine (and this was an expression of real sentiment, not just some statement to feel close to an American diaspora relative in order to take advantage of his wealth; Hryts has never asked me for or even about money. . .). Coming to Ukraine was sooo intense for me by itself; being there to experience all the turmoil of the OR with family who had become loved ones, was something altogether of a different plane.
Hryhori Kolodnytskyj (Hryts) holding up some anti-Yanukovych agit-prop.

I will be writing much more about him in the coming days. He was head of the Fatherland Party (Tymoshenko's party) in Pidhajtsi, and organized many buses to Kyiv from Pidhajtsi during the OR. The photo below is of him in the Fatherland Party's office in Pidhajtsi. . .

Hryts, Dmitri Shkvarlo, and I Putting Up Posters Between Election Rounds in Early Nov.

Hryts, as it turned out, left to be an election observer somewhere in the state of Donetsk. He came back late the next day to tell us the story of how he filmed a man being allowed to vote a second time, and how, as he filmed, security guards forcefully removed him from the voting center, throwing him out the door with such force that he fell to the ground. As he laid on the ground, they threw the video camera he had with him (property of Our Ukraine) to the side of his head, smashing it. Luckily, the guards were not smart enough to take the tape out of the camera. Hryts dutifully turned over that tape to the Our Ukraine offices in Kyiv, perhaps that tape became one of the 11,000 bits of evidence of electoral fraud that Yushchenko's lawyers submitted to Ukraine's Supreme Court, in effort to prove that the election had been massively falsified in favor of Yanukovych.

Oksana's mother and brother did not come home until the very early morning hours on Nov. 22. They worked in the voting center in Pidhajtsi, and they were involved in the vote counting and also, in watching for and guarding against any effort to falsify the vote or to provoke a scene. There were pro-Yanukovych observers in town, and also, Yanukovych was alleged to have had boasted that he would get 10-12% of the vote, "even in Pidhajtsi." Pidhajsti had the highest number of votes for independence in 1991; the highest number of votes for Kuchma (v. Symonenko) in 1999; and the highest number of votes for Yushchenko in the first round in all Ukraine. It would go on to have the highest number of Yushchenko votes in the runoff and in the rerun of the runoff. (The Kuchma vote in 1999 was mostly an anti-Communist vote.) Pidhajtsi is known, by those in-the-know, as one of Ukraine's most uppity towns. So there was fear that there would be attempt to falsify the vote there. In the end, all went well and peacefully. . .in Pidhajtsi, at least. . .

But not throughout Ukraine. I remember the. . .excitement? No, the relief I felt when they said that about 100,000 people had gathered on Independence Square in Kyiv this night one year ago, and that there were tens of thousands gathered in central Lviv, and thousands more in towns and cities throughout Ukraine.

There was so much going on emotionally in people that night, that I could sense as I went around to other people's houses to drop in and say "Hello," etc. There was rage, shock, excitement, and pride. I wrote an email that night from Pidhajtsi entitled, "Ukrainians Willing to Fight!" which you can read

It was incredible to be there to witness what could perhaps be called the Great Awakening of the Ukrainian people, to witness something that my grandfather--born in a village neighboring Pidhajtsi and who had died two years prior to the OR, at the age of 91, on the morning after his birthday on November 26--had struggled for his entire life.

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