The election in Donbas followed the traditional scenario for this region. Unfortunately, its residents learned nothing from the bloody lessons of 2014
Once more, they gave their votes to the forces that, with their actions, actually provoked the ruinous anti-Ukrainian putsch and Russian intervention in Ukraine. Even the war, which has hit the streets of nearly all of the oblast’s cities, did not force people to analyse reality and come to any conclusions about what has happened.
The Opposition Bloc, comprised of former Party of Region MPs, was gaining quite a significant lead with about 35% of the vote. Before the election, Serhiy Tihipko’s party was tipped to be the winner, rather than Yanukovych’s friends. However, the percentage of votes gained by his party, Strong Ukraine, is frankly low. Many felt that ex-Party of Regions’ MPs lost the trust of the electorate because of their tendency to conform to circumstances and their cowardly position after they initially called for an uprising and civil disobedience in spring, then recognised the legitimacy of the new government and began to play by its rules, putting only their own electorate in the firing line. Yet, the trust of the electorate in “their homeboys” turned out to be infinite.
In fact, there was some progress this time. Compared to 2012, the results of the Party of Regions have worsened significantly. The Petro Poroshenko Bloc (BPP) took a solid second place. Here and there, several more parties from the Maidan (Arseniy Yatseniuk’s People’s Front, Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party and Andriy Sadovyi’s Samopomich) won more than 5% of the vote. This is a significant rise in the popularity of pro-European forces. The gap between them and pro-Russian parties has closed seriously. A pro-Ukrainian candidate even won in one of the first-past-the-post constituencies, which is nothing short of a miracle in the Donbas. In some Donetsk Oblast constituencies, the President’s party is ahead of ex-Party of Regions candidates.
On the eve of voting, various excuses were made to change the personnel in nearly all DECs in Donetsk Oblast. Instead of commission members who did not express favouritism in FPTP races, without any explanation, people were appointed who had to ensure victory for specific candidates. Valeriy Nosov, a member of DEC No. 48 in Kramatorsk, stated that he was excluded on October 24. This was done on the request of the Native Fatherland (Ridna Vitchyzna) Party, which had previously submitted his name as its candidate. The decision was made in Kyiv.The most saddening thing, however, is not so much the inclination of the electorate, but the familiar rake that they have stepped on – the numerous falsifications that took place in the Donbas without hindrance, just as they did during the rise of the Yanukovych regime when such tricks were the norm. Unfortunately, not only did the government fail to do anything to prevent this, but also gave falsifiers the green light. Fraud at District Election Commissions (DECs) and polling stations was blatant and brazen. It was sad to look at the candidates who believed in the possibility of finally seeing honest elections in the East.
“According to the law, there were no violations. However, it’s clear that my place in the commission was simply bought”, Nosov confessed.
Other DEC members were also replaced in the last minute without warning. Employees of the Energomashspetsstal Plant were appointed instead. Its director, Maksym Yefimov, won in the constituency. Former DEC members stated that Mr. Yefimov was behind the radical change in the DEC. Voting results confirmed this.
The situation at constituency No. 48 in Kramatorsk is not unique. The same tactics have long been used in Ukraine. It is why creating political parties has become a lucrative business, as even little-known political forces that only exist on paper, were able to make money by selling their quotas on election commissions. On the eve of the 2014 election, there was an illusion that this time, old corrupt traditions would be ruined, but it was not meant to be. Everything remained the same. Moreover, as DEC members witnessed, BPP and other parties from the democratic camp also participated in this machination.
Artur Herasymov, a BPP candidate and head of the bloc’s election headquarters in Donetsk Oblast (No. 43 in the party list), is said to be responsible for the manipulation of the election in the Donbas. DEC members, relieved of their responsibilities, confirm that he was the one to negotiate on the replacement of commission members.
Constituency No. 47 in Sloviansk saw a similar scenario. There, the DEC was actually manipulated in favour of Yuriy Soloda, a candidate from the Opposition Bloc, who is the husband of Natalia Korolevska, the Social Policy Minister under Viktor Yanukovych. It is known that of the 18 DEC members, 16 were replaced on the eve of the election with people registered as Luhansk residents. Korolevska and Solod are also from Luhansk Oblast.
Solod predictably won in his constituency with a wide margin from his closest opponent. Apparently, the candidate, who had never lived in Sloviansk prior to this, simply bought the electorate’s loyalty. Representatives of Korolevska’s husband’s competitors recorded acts of bribery on video. The evidence is available to the public, but complaints and publicity did not help. Law enforcement agents did not notice any blatant crimes.
There was a real sensation in constituency No. 60 in Volnovakha. The winner there was BPP candidate and deputy of the city council, Dmytro Lubinets. There was a fierce battle between him and Party of Regions MP Oleksandr Ryzhenkov in and close to polling stations on October 26. The latter’s supporters resorted to outright crime. On the eve of the election, DEC chairman, Hanna Yeromchenko, was kidnapped, after attempts by Ryzhenkov’s supporters to scare and bribe her failed.
However, with the help of the Kyiv-2 batallion, she was released and the criminals were brought to the police station, where they admitted their guilt and wrote that they had followed Ryzhenkov’s orders. But this did not prevent him from participating in the election. But even without the use of administrative leverage, the influential Party of Regions member lost, thanks to strict control at polling stations.
It should be noted that the counting of votes at polling stations in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts was very slow, which could be evidence of numerous falsifications. The two eastern oblasts were far behind the rest of Ukrainian regions in ballot-counting. This occurred both in the front-line constituencies, and those in the rear where there was no reason for delay.
The first prize in the competition for the most absurd machinations in Donetsk Oblast goes to the incumbent Party of Regions MP Yukhym Zviahilsky (constituency No. 45) and the independent candidate Oleh Nedava (constituency No. 53). Only a few polling stations were open in these two constituencies. In Zviahilsky’s constituency – only four out of one hundred, all of them in remote villages. Attendance there was twice that of the rest of the whole oblast. Meanwhile, no polling stations were opened in Adviyivka, a calm part of the constituency. As a result, Zviahilsky won with only 1,450 votes (72% of total votes).
Oleh Nedava, who won 63% in constituency No. 53, should be of particular interest for Ukrainian journalists for being a business partner to Yuriy Ivanyushchenko, the Yanukovych Family man with a criminal background. As a result, people from the Yenakievo criminal clan will be present in the future parliament. And their victory was literally organised behind the backs of the Ukrainian soldiers protecting Vuhlehirsk from pro-Russian fighters. Nedava’s victory, just like Zviahilsky’s, is virtual, because his constituency barely voted – most of the territory is occupied, and only 11 polling stations were open in Vuhlehirsk. It seems that the only reason they were open, was to allow Yuriy Ivanyushchenko’s man to get into parliament.
The above facts bring forth a sad conclusion: nothing has changed in the Donbas after the victory of the Maidan and the partial destruction of separatist bands. This means that all the problems that have accumulated over the years and led to the explosion at the beginning of 2014, are not resolved, and it would be wise to expect the next recurrence.
One of the fighters who protected the DEC in constituency No. 52, commenting on events in Dzerzhynsk, smiled sadly and said off-camera, in a private conversation: “Let them do whatever they want, we’ll sort things out here, then we’ll go to Kyiv to sort things out there”.
The Ukrainian Week talked with U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations on prospects for the release of Ukrainian prisoners, the specifics of negotiations with the Russia and options for resolving the conflict in the Donbas