Friday, November 05, 2004

Ukraine Photos Part IV: The Voting!

In which I violate the secrecy of the vote by a)taking photos and b)publishing them on the internet.

But you guys have to see this. We were sitting in the polling station in a small village called Dyakove, when two truly ancient looking women came shuffling in. They were all of 2 feet tall, I swear, and they were holding hands. My job dropped at the sight of these gals, and the precinct chairwoman came over and sat down next to me. She pointed to the woman on the left and said, "She's 98 years old. We tried to put her on the list for the mobile ballot box [for homebound voters], but she insisted that she would come to the polling station in person."

It was astonishing. The pensioners in the former Soviet states take their voting very seriously; they're the first to line up in the morning and absolutely all of them vote. A holdover from the mandatory elections of communist days, it's seen as a serious and important duty, and also not a bad chance to see your friends and neighbors and share the local gossip.

But Valentina was born in 1907. She would be old enough to remember Tsar Nicholas II. The murder of the Tsar's family, the tales of his daughter Anastasia that tantalize us as distant legends—Valentina was a pre-teen then. She saw the Tsars pass, the Bolsheviks wander in and then out of history, and through it all, she just keeps stomping through the dirt of Dyakove on her own feet. I asked her if I could take a picture while she and her next door neighbor voted, and they both agreed. Afterwards, Valentina got my attention when I was leaving. "I want to see the picture," she said. I turned around my digital camera and showed her. "No," she scolded, "I know what I look like. You need to send me a picture." This one was a feisty one. I assumed it would be pointless to ask for her e-mail address, so I took down her street address. "And you must send me two," Valentina instructed sternly, nodding towards her next door neighbor. So I must get these off to Valentina, quickly, before she dies [Valentina on the left, in the white scarf]:

Finally, a quick shot of the tortuous process that was the vote counting. Due to some screwy election legislation and strange circumstances, there were 32 election commission members (in other countries, there are normally 7-10). This made for chaos, and recounting, and yelling, and despair, then perserverence, and finally, hours and hours later, including one entire hour listening to the name Yanukovych intoned as they read the votes, success. After the third recount of absolutely everything, and after getting a different number for the third time, I turned to my partner and shrugged, "Democracy? eh."


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