Ukrainian-Americans rally at Capitol

Approximately 100 people gathered to protest an alleged fraudulent election.

by Emily Johns

Amid chants of “Free elections for Ukraine,” 100 Ukrainian-Americans gathered Sunday on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol to protest what they called the fraudulent presidential election Nov. 21 in Ukraine.

Organized by members of Minnesota’s Ukrainian-American community, the protest came one day after the Ukrainian Parliament symbolically declared the country’s disputed presidential election invalid.

Protestors, including several University students, said they gathered in the cold in St. Paul to support friends demonstrating in the streets of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. There, supporters of presidential challenger Viktor Yushchenko said the government rigged the election to ensure victory for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, whom the Central Elections Commission declared as the winner.

Alexandra Shayda Golovko, who protested the election at the Minnesota Capitol, said that some election officials took large bags of ballots into the streets and burned them on election day.

Some Minnesota Ukrainians have sent money to Kiev so demonstrators can buy hats and gloves to keep themselves warm while they rally for a new vote, she said.

The Ukrainian Supreme Court will decide today whether to annul the election after hearing an appeal from Yushchenko supporters.

Alex Khrystych, who came to the United States four years ago as a University exchange student, said Yushchenko supporters in Kiev have spent several days and nights protesting.

“We want people to know that the thing that happened (on election day) shouldn’t happen anymore,” he said.

Khrystych stood outside the Capitol with Ganna Gonchar, who also came to the United States for a University exchange program.

She said the election made the Ukraine look bad to the rest of the world.

“It’s a big shame,” Gonchar said. “All the results were made up.”

In Kiev, Yanukovych supporters have vowed to prevent opposition from taking power and have set up hundreds of tents less than half a mile from Yushchenko supporters.

On Sunday at the Capitol, Oksana Bryn, former voice teacher at the MacPhail Center for the Arts, said some Ukrainians were paid up to $200 to vote for Yanukovych. After coming to the United States more than 50 years ago, Bryn said, she protested at the Capitol as a “last stand for freedom.”

Vasil Bulavitsky said the Internet and increasing awareness of democracy in the Ukraine have made it impossible for the government to seal the country off from the rest of the world and allow a fraudulent election.

“They thought they would be able to steal the votes from the people like they always have,” Bulavitsky said.

At the University

The possibility of corruption represents a defeat for several members of the U.S. Ukrainian community.

Yuliya Lutchyn, a graduate journalism student at the University, said she was disappointed in the election results.

Before the election, she helped organize a voting drive for Ukrainian-Americans that sent two busloads of Ukrainian citizens in Minnesota to Chicago to vote in the election Oct. 31 and Nov. 21, she said.

The bus trips hosted at least 40 University students, with some from the Duluth and Moorhead campuses, Lutchyn said. Ukrainian citizens within the Minnesota community funded it.

Luyuba Megits, a member of the board of directors of the Ukrainian American Wave Association, attended the rally. She said she is trying to create a student group that will organize Ukrainian students at the University to vote in their elections and participate in Ukrainian politics while living in Minnesota.

– Jerret Raffety and The Associated Press contributed to this report.