In the early hours of Ukraine’s Election Day, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at Kherson School No. 56, which contained three polling places. Although the entryway was charred, no one was injured and the polling stations opened as usual.
This incident wasn’t reported much in the media, unlike the bomb that detonated on the outskirts of Kyiv the Friday prior, the assassination of an armed leader in Donetsk, or the deaths of eleven Ukrainian soldiers in a battle against pro-Russian militants the day before.
On a Sunday morning in Kherson, located in the south of the country and near the convergence of the Dnieper and Black Seas, the aroma of fried onions permeated the air of Freetown, a street near Polling Place No. 698.
The two-story communal apartment was constructed with zinc for a roof and the exterior walls were a combination of two shades of dusty peach. On the bottom level was a stomatology clinic, with barred windows, and the top floor held the residential apartments as well as the kitchen. Clothes hung from a line above the clinic.
The man standing in the doorway, wearing a worn white tee and shorts with plastic sandals, pulls back the curtain to see who was at the door. To his surprise, there were eight unfamiliar faces, one of them being an officer in a police uniform.
His expression betrays his confusion. Living in collective housing during the Soviet era, one learns to know each other’s business and to never trust strangers. At the back of the room, a woman not much younger than the man studies the visitors with a combination of curiosity and suspicion.
Our small group, none of whom are bearing gifts, all nod in recognition of one another as we arrive. The metal-framed cube with clear plastic sides, sporting the blue and yellow trident symbol, is a portable ballot box from the polling station.
Ukraine does not have absentee voting so the box serves those who are too ill or disabled to go to the station. To make use of the service, one must sign up in advance. On this day, the citizens of Kherson and many other cities will be voting in the presidential and mayoral elections.
Topping our procession and holding the box is the leader of the electoral commission, a middle-aged woman with waves of brown hair that just reach her collarbone. Accompanying her are four other members of the precinct’s electoral commission: three female and one male. Much like in most precincts, during the 2014 elections the majority of the laborious, labor-intensive, and tedious work was conducted by women.
At 10:30 in the morning, the temperature was rising in the city. Bringing up the rear of the crew with the ballot box were two observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, each wearing badges and armbands with their logo. Marte, a historian from Norway, and the California-based editor were part of the group.
The interpreter, Alevtyna, who had worked on cruise ships, had been to more ports than everyone else in the group put together. When we met, I assumed she had just finished university or was a graduate student.
As we make our way down the hallway of the communal apartment building, we hear the commissioner’s knocking. An elderly woman with vivid red hair, wearing slippers, appears and appears to have been expecting us.
She examines us and welcomes us into her home. Inside, the furniture in the entryway creates a small vestibule: a tall wardrobe, complemented by a sheet draped from the ceiling, obscures a sleeping area just beyond. The apartment is confined, musty, and well-used.
The woman spoke with the same inflection one might use to describe an issue to a technician, saying, “This is the issue we have.“ She went on to explain that her husband, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, wishes to vote, though he is no longer able to move, due to the six strokes he has had.
The man is gasping for air, struggling to catch his breath. His companion states, “This is how we’ve been living, ever since the Soviet Union collapsed. It had been over twenty years of waiting for an apartment before that, and since then we’ve been here.”
In the mayoral election, the head of the electoral commission was helping an elderly man to put a mark next to his name on the voter list.
However, there was a difficulty: unfortunately, he wasn’t included on the presidential ballot list. And the regulations did not allow for him to cast a provisional ballot or register on the same day.
The elderly woman let out a heavy sigh of resignation, her expression showing her clear dissatisfaction. She could have warned her elderly partner that his vote would make no difference, yet he was still determined to do it.
Not uttering a word, he slowly raised his arm and put a mark near the name of one the mayoral candidates. A commissioner subsequently folded the paper up and placed it in the ballot box.
The promise of a new era in politics has brought hope to a country in dire need of it, but in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the election, the pungent smell of despair still lingers. It’s a scent that is all too familiar.
Upon arriving in Ukraine as a Peace Corps volunteer two decades ago, I began teaching a semester-long course at Lesya Ukrainka University in the western city of Lutsk, which was focused on contemporary American literature.
We started with the Beats, and the students had a special fascination with Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. As part of the course, I asked the students to compose their own version of Ferlinghetti’s poem “I Am Waiting”.
This poem, which is a mix of pent-up frustration, national ambition, and yearning for a regained innocence, had a recurring chorus.
At Precinct No. 698, a bust of the early-twentieth-century poet Vladimir Mayakovsky stands outside the school serving as a polling place.
Mayakovsky was vocal in his defense of the Soviet regime, despite being driven to suicide by it in 1930. If his work was opened, one may hear the hum of the stars that speak of a new world emerging.
Males, crumpled up like sheets on a hospital bed,
And females, worn out like a proverb that is too often quoted.
I ponder what would be the result if Vladimir Mayakovsky were living in today’s Russia under the leadership of President Putin.
With the presidential election looming, activity was aplenty on the streets of Kherson. On the Friday morning before the vote, representatives of the various candidates set up tents and information tables to spread their message.
Meanwhile, a woman wheeling an ice cream cart around the square chanted her slogan – “Samaya vkusnaya morozhenoe! Tol’ko zdes’! Tol’ko sevodnya!” – meaning “The tastiest ice cream! Only here! Only today!” As the twenty-four-hour ‘quiet period’ kicked in, all flyers and billboards had to be taken down by the end of the day.
As for the ice cream, while no interruption of sales was necessary, it was a reminder of the scarcity and hyperinflation of Soviet and post-Soviet times – that if you see something you want or need, buy it now, as nobody knows what the following days may bring.
Don’t miss out! Seize the moment!
Lenin, who had been present in Freedom Square, was no more, yet his statue in Kherson had endured the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was unlike many other cities in Ukraine where communist monuments were eliminated or eliminated during the past two decades.
Until February 2014, Lenin had been perched on a stone plinth in the center of the square, and then he was toppled as the protests that forced then president Viktor Yanukovych to flee the nation and bring in a new administration took place. During the same protests, a large number of the remaining Lenin statues were also removed.
In Kyiv, the renowned Lenin statue that was on Shevchenko Boulevard was taken away in December 2013; the demonstrators replaced it with a golden toilet, an anarcho-artistic act of irony that did not have the same effect in tranquil Kherson.
Instead, the Lenin statue was quickly replaced by a handwritten memorial to the Heavenly Hundred, those killed in January and February 2014 in the protests in Kyiv. By May, the marble stand had been decorated with flowers, the initial crude dedication was redone with impeccable blue lettering in a quaint serif font.
A band of traditional Ukrainian geometric patterns in red and black, like those found on embroidered shirts and towels, was wrapped around the base. In the center of the stone was a huge metal flagpole.
Alevtyna remembers the Lenin statue with a hint of nostalgia. She does not yearn for the Soviet Union, but feels the loss of the statue is like losing a part of her childhood.
Though the street that was named after Lenin has been changed to Cathedral Street, some tourist guides still include Lenin in the title. Street signs in the city also show the original name with small letters. Similarly, Karl Marx Street is now known as Potemkin Street.
A monument of Prince Grigory Potemkin stands in the square, depicting him in a breastplate with his gaze looking to the horizon. His right hand holds a telescope and his left hand rests on the hilt of a sword.
Near the statue, couples attach padlocks to a bench to symbolize their love, as Potemkin was Catherine the Great’s secret husband for many years.
In Kherson, a building site can be seen across from Freedom Square. On the left there is a poster that reads “Don’t shoot in Ukraine” and on the right there is a poster depicting Yanukovych that mocks him for an error in spelling he made in 2004, which captured the criticism of his presidency. This picture was taken by the author.
The city of Kherson derives its name from the Greek city of Khersones, which dates back to the era of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great. However, the ruins of Khersones are located in Crimea, not in Kherson.
This Kherson was once an unnamed village near the Dnieper river, known for its frequent flooding and subsequent illnesses. But eventually levees were constructed, and Catherine the Great, with her love for Greek history, renamed the city Kherson and included it within her colony of “Novorossiya.”
In order to symbolize the restoration of the old Rus’ empire, Catherine the Great annexed the Crimean Peninsula and the “wild field” of the steppe lands to the Novorossiya region. Potemkin was appointed governor general of Novorossiya, and Catherine subsequently commanded for a medal to be made to commemorate the event.
The inscription on the medal read: “I have recovered what was torn away”.
In the winter of 1787, Catherine and her extensive entourage left St. Petersburg on a journey to the south. They rode by carriage and sledge pulled by over five hundred horses. Along the Dnieper River, in the spring, they drifted on a barge to Kherson.
This expedition was rumored to have been accompanied by so-called “Potemkin Villages,” which were supposedly created to make derelict towns look more vibrant and populated with people who were relocated from surrounding areas.
Despite the negative talk of Potemkin’s embellishments, Catherine was pleasantly surprised to see a prosperous city when they arrived. As they drove through an archway, a sign read, “This is the road to Byzantium”.
The riverbank of the city is home to a statue that has become a symbol: a bulky, concrete, Soviet-era sculpture of a three-masted sailing ship, The Glory of Catherine.
This was the first sixty-six-gun battleship in the Russian navy and was launched in 1783, named after the empress.
It marked the beginning of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which had been intended to be based in Kherson, but Sevastopol in newly acquired Crimea had a better harbor.
This made the shipyards be moved to Mykolaiv, leading Kherson to lose both the fleet and the shipyards, yet it still kept Potemkin; at least part of him is buried there, which will be discussed further.
For many years, the Crimean coastline with its calm winds was the ideal spot for Ukrainians to take a break. Even before that, people from throughout the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire made their way to Crimea for a holiday.
Ukrainians in Kherson consider Crimea as a neighbor since the only way to get there is via Kherson, which also provides the peninsula with electricity and freshwater from the Dnieper River’s Nova Kakhovka dam.
In the early months of 2020, the Russian military created a boundary for Crimea. Explosives were strategically placed. At the same time, the “little green men” infiltrated a peninsula in Kherson, but swiftly evacuated.
In the month of May 2014, a Memorial Tower was situated on the Independence Square of Kyiv, as demonstrated in the image above. An attention-drawing banner in the center of the photo reads “We Love Russians, We Despise Putin”, as captured by the photographer.
On the day of the election, it was expected that there would be no voting in Crimea. However, it was possible that some people from there would make a journey to Kherson, where the day passed without major incident; apart from one Molotov cocktail.
But in Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatist factions attempted to prevent voting, the turnout was only about 20 percent due to the violent suppression and intimidation.
On TV and the Internet, certain individuals leading breakaway regions in Donetsk and Luhansk promoted the concept of a unified Novorossiya. This two-hundred-year-old name was revived by Putin in April.
Maps of this imagined region included the Kherson area, extending from eastern Ukraine to Odessa, Moldova and Transnistria. This covered half of Ukraine and all its Black Sea coast.
It was suggested that the 1954 Khrushchev “gift” of Crimea to Ukraine should be reversed due to its three-hundredth anniversary alliance with the Russian Empire.
Khrushchev’s intention for the peninsula was for it to be connected to Ukraine for practical purposes such as transportation, energy and water.
In the fall of 1964, Khrushchev was forced to resign in a coup due to his many outlandish schemes.
He was sent to his dacha to tend a garden and the KGB placed listening devices in his lavatory as well as confiscating the text of his memoirs. Crimea, however, stayed part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The head of the election commission for Precinct No. 698 leaves the communal apartment building, carrying the portable ballot box into the sun-lit courtyard. A white Lada is parked near the stomatology clinic, and the yard, though unkempt, is free from any debris.
The paths are a mix of dirt and pavement, and children play in the area, away from the noise and commotion of the street.
Those living in the building stand and converse for hours, and men, wearing sandals, walk around with bags full of groceries from the market. Women hang laundry out to dry, with bright colors of checkered tablecloths, striped blankets, and other garments.
A neighbor in tracksuit bottoms and a pink top came away from the rest of the women she had been conversing with and smoking, stopping our procession. The cigarette she held was slender, and the scent of the tobacco was strong and inexpensive.
She inquires, “Are you delivering the voting box to people?” She goes on to explain that she is originally from Crimea and is registered to vote there, but she currently lives in another location. She then asks, “Is there any way I can cast my ballot?”
The commissioner has sadly declared that it is too late to make any changes as of today. It was possible to do so last week, and even two days ago through the courts, but now it is no longer an option.
The female figure gave a slight gesture of her shoulders. “I just thought I’d inquire,” she uttered. “Just in case.”
The head of the election commission suggested, “Let’s consider this for the next time.”
What will be next?
Should no candidate gain a majority of the vote, a second round of presidential elections will be held in two weeks. Later on, parliamentary elections are expected to occur close to the end of the year.
The female inclines her head in assent. Returning to her cigarette and the people in her vicinity.
It is unlikely that many voters from Crimea will cast their votes in the election–not here or any small towns near the border. Unless these individuals have relocated to mainland Ukraine, they would have to spend money and time registering.
This could be the equivalent of a week’s salary. Online registration may have been a good option but reports suggest that some fraudulent sites have been set up to gather people’s personal information.
If a van of Crimean Tatars attempted to cross the border on Election Day, they would most likely face delays and unwelcome scrutiny.
In a five-story white brick apartment building, two flights of stairs up, the head of the election commission rang a bell.
A seventeen year old boy answered the door, appearing timid. He then went back to the room he was in, where a video game was playing on the television, and he called for his grandmother.
An elderly couple then invited the commission head into their kitchen and showed their internal passports. Grandfather was eligible to vote for both positions, but his wife would only be able to vote for mayor. After seeing this, she sighed.
Once again, a period of silence filled with disappointment and discouragement arose, with the question of “What should be done?” hovering in the air.
The chair of the commission kindly remarks that if you had taken the initiative to ensure your name was on the register last week and discovered it wasn’t, there were steps that could have been taken.
Unfortunately, it takes time to get things done, especially for someone who is confined to their home.
Maybe your grandson could have helped out? He could have gone to the polling place a few weeks ago to verify you were on the list and brought back forms to be completed. Unfortunately, it’s too late now.
In Kherson, a billboard supporting Yulia Tymoshenko proclaims, “Our nation is facing pressing difficulties, and it takes brave decisions and a powerful leader to protect Ukraine!”
I find that transporting the movable ballot box has a quality of acting, similar to how a theater group might travel from place to place, with all its regulations and customs–but on a much smaller level. Plus, the unpredictability of it all is palpable in this moment so full of significance.
In the lead-up to the elections for president, the polls showed Petro Poroshenko—known to both the public in Ukraine and those abroad as the chocolate baron—as the likely victor.
The uncertainty was in the size of the win, and whether Poroshenko would take the election in the first round or if a second round would be necessary, with him pitted against Yulia Tymoshenko, the heroine of the Orange Revolution.
After being put away in prison by Yanukovych, Tymoshenko was freed when he fled the country, only to find her political influence had waned.
Poroshenko’s campaign slogan, shown on billboards and posters with his name and photo or just text, was a call to break with the past in a promising yet harmless manner. The typeface used was red, sans-serif, and all capital letters, saying: Now is the time to live differently.
Ukrainians have been expressing their national pride in various ways, such as displaying more Ukrainian flags than ever before.
From lampposts and flagpoles, as well as balconies, cars, and bicycles, the blue and gold colors of the EU flag can also be seen blowing in the wind from the West.
In Kherson, a tank monument from World War II is decorated with a flag waving from the hatch. Billboards throughout the area proclaim “Your voice is the deciding one” in yellow, blue, and white.
Even a cafe chalkboard reads “Make coffee, not war,” complete with large paper flower decorations of blue, white, and yellow.
At all election precincts, there is a flag at the entrance of the polling place, and the colors of the flag are repeated inside the booths in fabric swaths.
In School No. 57 of the Komsomol region of Kherson, the woman who supervises Precinct No. 687 has arranged a display of paperback election codes on a linen towel with red and black stripes, topped with a round, braided loaf of bread with a cup of salt in the center.
To the right is a brown vase with a pair of gold sunflowers and a spray of maple leaves, and to the left is a vase with a sheaf of wheat and a flowered headband with red and orange ribbons.
Behind the desk are posters about the election process, the election code books, and poetry, including Taras Shevchenko’s works with a picture of the young poet and the grizzled, walrus-mustache one who returned from his exile.
A child’s declaration, printed and safeguarded in a plastic sheet and just a single paragraph in length, is placed near the polling-place shrine. At the top is the phrase “Ya Ukrainets“ meaning “I am a Ukrainian”. It is a brief narrative of a young person’s family history, origin, and sense of self.
At School No. 25 in the heart of the city, a lengthy line of voters had formed in the sweltering heat outside the polling station.
Those in the queue were weary and restless. Inside, an elderly woman was unwell, her eyes rolling around madly, barely able to stand or walk, aided only by a slightly younger woman by her arm.
Her breathing was labored and loud, like a pump drawing air and water. When the elderly woman was taken to the booth, a commotion broke out when her escort tried to follow her as the candidates’ representatives shouted out, “That’s prohibited!”
They were incorrect in believing that it is prohibited to help a disabled voter; however, the escort of the voter was perplexed, uncertain of the proper course of action in this position.
With the woman in the booth trembling and loud voices coming from the opposite side of the room, the person who was escorting her was stuck outside the booth, feeling powerless.
The woman inside the booth started to breathe more heavily, as if she was about to have an attack. I felt as if she would fall through the curtain at any given moment.
At last, she exits with the support of her companion and moves unsteadily toward the ballot box. It takes her a while to put the paper in and then depart.
One of the candidate representatives attempts to get the others to recognize the situation, saying, “This is someone who is very ill.”
Moments afterwards, another commotion occurred.
Two elderly individuals, the man slender and hunched with a hat in his hand, the woman strong-willed and resembling a miniature tank (a type I’m very familiar with) who have gone through the laborious process of entering the polling station, and even that is nothing to what they have been through together, now show their identifications and collect their ballots.
They head for the next booth. Without exchanging a word, the female takes her partner’s ballot and disappears behind the curtain. At the other end of the room, the candidates’ representatives are shouting in outrage.
“Hey there! You aren’t allowed to do that! You must cast your ballot!”
The man’s expression reveals his resignation and frustration, as if asking if they understood the absurdity of not only the election but of life in general. His shrug and slumped posture conveys his weary, beleaguered spirit. It is clear that his message is communicated without words.
Inform her that what she is attempting is not possible.
It could be argued that geography is destiny, however the discussions held regarding Ukraine’s geography are often simplified too much, particularly since the protests began in November 2013.
While geographically, the entirety of Ukraine and Russia are considered part of Europe, east of the Urals, when considering the implications of the May 2014 presidential election in Ukraine, it is best to focus on the nation’s boundaries and the concept of territorial integrity.
The boundaries of the past, such as the Hapsburg Empire, the Tatar khanate, and the Zaporizhian Cossacks, have many layers. Many centuries ago, the Black Sea was surrounded by empires and the Scythian horsemen, and trading of items such as grain, salt, fish, and slaves occurred.
If we speak in terms of a river, the Dnieper delta is located in southern Ukraine, but its watershed stretches from Donetsk in the East to Lutsk in the West, and even further into Belarus and western Russia, out to as far as Moscow.
I took a plane to Kyiv and a train to Kherson and then, for the election, we had a black Hyundai Tucson that was driven by Dima. He was quiet and slender and always drove carefully, and he hadn’t taken up either drinking or smoking, which is pretty rare for a Ukrainian male.
On Election Day, he promised to remain with the car, as we could never be sure when we’d have to leave suddenly due to the danger of violence. Consequently, we had to be prepared for any sudden retreat.
In Ulyanovsk, the spot for voting on October Street was snapped by the author, as shown in the image above.
In the afternoon of Election Day, we drove eastward. We passed by a huge mall called Fabrika, with a grocery store that was as big as Walmart, an ice rink, a swimming pool, go-karts, a movie theater, and a lot of clothes and jewelry shops and eateries, including the first McDonald’s that had opened in Kherson in December of 2013.
As we continued along the main highway, the bustling and commercial atmosphere of the city became rural, and there, on the periphery, was a yellow and blue billboard that beckoned: Kherson–Stand up and defend your land!
Alevtyna, our interpreter, was perplexed as she commented, “The colors are Ukrainian, but the sentiment is Novorossiya.”
It is possible, but it is true that both sides in Ukraine have their respective self-defense forces: Stand up! This is just one of the components of an impending civil war, where militias, mercenaries, National Guard troops, and even Russian soldiers in disguise are all involved.
Further down the road, a sign was erected featuring Vladimir Putin with a Hitler-esque mustache. The message was clear: Leave Ukraine!
On the other side of the street lies a checkpoint for vehicles, where self-defense forces and police have put up sandbags. A feeble flagpole, flying a Ukrainian flag, is placed atop the checkpoint.
Heading off the main road to the village of Ingulets, we were met with endless fields of sunflowers, yet to bloom.
But our sight was soon filled with a sea of yellow: rapeseed in full bloom, with cinder-block bus stops colored in blue and yellow, featuring a sunflower and jar of mayonnaise.
At the polling place, a school, we sat for some time, observing people come in to cast their votes.
The commission cheerfully shared with me their endeavors for today, informing me of their journey around the village in order to ensure everyone was on the voting list, and the excitement of having young people vote for the very first time.
Then, as if on cue, a young woman arrived, excited to cast her first vote ever. The commission members congratulated her on the achievement and helped her through the process. You see?
In Mikulske, a village located south of the River Ingulets, stands an elementary school built of bricks with a tan-and-rust hue, with a stripe of whitewashed bricks along the base of the walls and columns.
Just above the main entrance is a sign in bold Ukrainian lettering eighteen inches in size, which reads “ласкаво просимо” – a warm welcome.
The entrance of Polling Place No. 70, with its two white double doors, is situated at the school. To keep the building cool, one is held open with a brick while the other is propped up with a clump of concrete resembling a pulled tooth.
Throughout the afternoon, voters would come in, greet the election commission, cast their ballot, and exchange a few words. Most had already voted by this time since it is a rural area with few population.
According to Dima, our driver, some of these people are actually registered to the village but have migrated elsewhere for employment.
Mikulske is a tranquil location. The school is situated on Lenin Street, a dead end that runs southeast near the Ingulets, which flows into the Dnieper. Beside the school is the past hub of political activity in the village–a club, now closed, where the grass is untended and the entrance is barricaded.
On both sides of the steps, tucked among the overgrown trees, are two busts resting on pedestals painted in a faded turquoise.
Marx is on the left. His head is partially destroyed, the top of his skull and forehead broken off in a ragged chunk, as if a creature had attacked him from the front left and gorged on his brain, snatching away one eye.
Two empty beer bottles are scattered in the grass. Lenin is on the right. His entire head has been severed, chopped where the neck rises from the collar. The engraving which was once inscribed here is gone.
Ukraine is home to multiple settlements referred to as Ulyanovka. The specific one we are looking for is located just a few turns away from the river, along a road lined with vibrant poppies and a mix of yellow and purple wildflowers.
Nearby, a prison is visible, its cinder-block walls crowned with concertina wire. As we approach the polling place, a baby goat is seen, tethered to the roadside. A stork has even made its nest atop a nearby concrete post, providing a sense of good fortune.
The polling station located on October Street is where Dima goes to vote. He initially didn’t think it was worth the time to visit this place, claiming that his vote wouldn’t make a difference. Marte and I insisted on giving him and Alevtyna the time to cast their ballots.
Even though it was a bit out of the way, in the end he ended up yielding to our insistence. It was rather a funny sight as he arrived to vote, with the international observers following him around. He was welcomed as a local celebrity in his home village.
Antonia Stepanivna is responsible for the guest registry and takes great pleasure in her role as a defender of justice and making a joke of it.
With her metal-rimmed glasses, canary-colored hair and gold-capped teeth, wearing a short-sleeved dress decorated with a floral design, she proudly proclaims that she has family in California, though she can’t quite pinpoint their location.
She then inquired how I got here and if I volunteered, expressing delight when I answered in the affirmative. She then expresses her own desire to go to the USA and witness the elections there.
We don’t stay for more than about a quarter of an hour. The only individual to arrive and cast their vote during this period is Dima. Most of the commission participants follow us outside to the yard and observe us leave. When Dima is back in the driver’s seat, he remarks, “That woman is aware of every single detail about everyone in the village.”
At the end of the polling place’s hours of operation, the doors should be shut and no one should be allowed to enter or leave until the ballot counting is finished, the ballots have been placed in their proper containers, and all election materials have been taken to the district electoral commission.
In reality, people often go out for a smoke or bathroom break. It is recommended to bring some snacks and water so that you can make it through the potentially lengthy evening.
As the clock ticks off the hours for voting, we journey back to Kherson and make a stop at the main grocery store. To our dismay, the lady who promised she would not be back on Sunday has kept her word. This offer is only available here and only available now!
In the market, the tantalizing display of smoked fish and cheeses and sausages created an island towards the rear of the store. The choices became even more tantalizing after a lengthy and increasingly dusty day.
In the half an hour leading up to the polls closing, I was in the checkout line accompanied by piroshki filled with cabbage and meat, smoked cheese, water and some chocolate.
The lady behind me was getting buckwheat, packed up in a transparent plastic bag from the bulk food section.
She pointed to my badge and asked, “Are you an observer?”
I give a gesture of agreement.
She expressed her gratitude for their presence, noting the numerous observers around the area. She then inquired, “Where are you all from?”
I state the name of the state, “California” and the country it belongs to, “America.”
“We plead for assistance,” she implored. “For two decades, we have been living in the shadows of bandits, including Putin. It is a form of servitude.
The young citizens of Ukraine are intelligent and are entitled to a viable opportunity. We must put a stop to this oppressive regime–“
With her arms thrust above her, she causes a flurry of movement in the atmosphere.
As campaigns come to an end and citizens head to the polls, one can feel a hope shared among many, often expressed or kept secret, that the ballots cast will bring about their desired outcome. As paper is folded and placed in the box, the hope is there that their aspirations will be realized.
We finish the evening on Red Flag Street at Special School No. 2, Polling Place No. 685. There is a gate encircling the school yard with a garden and playground, and two women have set up a table to sell candy to the voters.
On Saturday, we visited the offices and the safe where the ballots were held. In the hallway of the offices, there is a display featuring photos and accounts of veterans, and the Great Patriotic War is represented with a picture of nine-year-old Nikolay Dvorik, who fought alongside the partisans in Belarus with a machine gun.
Also, there is a black-and-white image of Lyubov’ Nikolaevna Belaya, a nurse, carrying a Soviet soldier past a disabled German tank, and a color snapshot of her later in life wearing medals and posing with a group of children.
Additionally, the text and images about the liberation of Kherson are included in the exhibit: 70 Years Without War. It is time to begin the count anew.
An elderly woman arrived at Polling Place No. 685 near the end of the day, signing the voter roll before then taking her ballot. She moved in a slow but steady manner, evidently understanding what was happening.
However, she remained near the table where the ballot had been handed to her and asked the commissioner quietly, “Who should I vote for?”
It is evident from her vocal inflection that the commissioner is not suggesting that it is impossible to differentiate between the candidates. Instead, she is implying that there is a definitive option that is meant to be the victor, and that she is not allowed to make the choice for the voter.
The commissioner directs her attention to the wall, which has 21 posters of the contenders, each with their photo, name, party and a short statement. The elderly woman seems overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.
Individuals who have spent the majority of their lives in the USSR recollect a varying kind of elections: when reports of 99.99 percent turnout were common. In Kherson, turnout is projected to be between 45 and 55 percent at the majority of polling stations.
At the last minute, two young men, both slim with short hair, arrived. One was wearing a short-sleeved button-down and jeans, the other a tracksuit. It was obvious that they were uncertain about the proceedings, almost as if they were ashamed to be there.
Nonetheless, they seemed to be motivated to be present, and began to look around the area, inspecting the posters and polling booths. Then, just before the doors closed, they moved on.
Alexander, a member of the electoral commission, approaches them and speaks to them in a stern yet not overly loud manner: “You must come to a decision and cast your ballot. Loitering is not an option.”
Once the boys had cast their ballots, the polling station was shut. The process of categorizing and tallying the votes, both used and unused, commenced.
At the stroke of midnight, a chant emerged as names were enumerated in ballot after ballot: Poroshenko, Tihipko, Poroshenko, Poroshenko, Grushin ‘, Bohomelets’, Poroshenko…
After a bit of time had passed, Alexander and I emerged from Special School No. 2 onto the yard. The sky was clear and we were able to see the stars twinkling.
Alexander has an unmistakable aroma of cigarettes upon him. He is extolling the coast of the Kherson region and the Black Sea located nearby, where Russians and Belarusans used to come for summer vacations.
The cost of renting a place is quite reasonable, ranging from fifteen to thirty-five hryvnia –which translates to two to four U.S. dollars at the exchange rate in May. His suggestion is to take the opportunity to swim and relax.
He affirms that he had a pleasant break, then inquires, “What do the people in the West desire for this election?”
I proclaim that it is a beneficial process for Ukrainians to select their own leader.
He gives a nod of approval. Those with no political bias should not express their preference for any individual contender or their associated group.
Alexander enumerates the leadership blunders that have occurred in Ukraine since its independence, from Kravchuk to Kuchma to Yushchenko to Yanukovych, and ponders Tymoshenko’s transformation.
He expresses admiration for Poroshenko and the roles he has adopted. Later, when the commission is writing multiple copies of the election protocol, Alexander assists them in correctly spelling out numbers in Ukrainian, such as “sixty-eight” which is written differently in that language than in Russian.
At approximately four in the morning, the ballots from Polling Place No. 685 were collected and taken by cab to the District Election Commission. Upon arrival, commissioners were lined up waiting for entrance to the main hall, bringing with them the white bag filled with ballots and the protocols.
The personnel at the precinct discovered they had neglected to close the bag containing the ballots that had been labeled, so they created a makeshift seal with a length of ribbon.
The voting protocols from the precinct were acknowledged, and the vote totals entered into the computer.
The ballots were placed in an abundance of brown cardboard boxes that were sealed with packing tape and marked with black Magic Marker.
Beside these stacks of boxes were large white bags, resembling sacks of post awaiting dispatching. The bags were printed with WFP on the side, which denoted that they were formerly used by the World Food Programme to store fifty kilos of grain from British Columbia.
We were relieved from our posts at the election commission before noon; rest was available, should we desire it. The unofficial tallies report that Poroshenko was the victor, with over 50 percent of the vote across the country. No second round of voting was necessary.
I have been sipping coffee, wishing not to doze off. I ponder how the town will be the following day after the election–maybe a tranquil comeback to normal? It is Monday, so the market won’t be bustling.
I’m going to stroll around the parks, downtown and speak with store owners and pedestrians on Suvorova Street, a well-known pedestrian walkway that was named after a famous Russian general. Initially, I’m going to visit a church and a graveyard.
Komsomol Park is home to the domed St. Catherine’s Cathedral, a building made of “straw colored Ingulets chalkstone in the style of Russian Classicism,” according to the historical marker.
Potemkin ordered the construction of the cathedral and its dome was supposedly modeled after his palace dome in St. Petersburg.
The portico with its four columns, which is reminiscent of Greek architecture, reflects Russia’s ties to the Byzantine church, much like St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. This has caused tension between Kyiv and Moscow in recent years, as they vie to be the true keeper of the orthodox church.
For Russia, the church symbolizes a moral foundation that is seen as an alternative to the decadence of the West, which is linked to the formation of an economic union to challenge the European Union.
In the early afternoon, a babushka with a scarf-covered head and dressed in a dark skirt and maroon slippers was seated on a tree stump outside the gate of St. Catherine’s Cathedral on Perekopsky Street.
There was a small plastic tub that once held yogurt with a few coins within it in front of her, presumably for begging alms. Inside the church, the odor of beeswax candles lit before the icons wafted through the air, and a cleaning woman was mopping the floor.
The tomb of Potemkin is situated close to the middle of the church, to the right of the altar. A flat stone is discernible, with a protective railing of low iron around it.
Upon his death, a procession brought the body of Potemkin from Bessarabia, where he had been directing a military campaign. His remains were laid in an unenclosed crypt in the church, however, not laid to rest appropriately.
Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore notes that in the time of Potemkin, when “great men were embalmed, their viscera were buried separately”.
It is said that his brain and internal organs are now situated in a Romanian monastery, located under the red velvet throne of the Hospodar of Moldavia, and within a golden box, beneath the carpet and the flagstone.
Potemkin’s heart is believed to be buried in his home village of Chizhova, Russia.
Can the heart miss the bones; does the mind yearn for the body that once bore it: a reunion, a conquest, a time of military dread?
For the present, I dream that the fragile spirit of Potemkin–with neither a heart nor a brain–saunters through the boulevards and the banks of the river these nights.
We owe thanks to Potemkin for uniting Crimea with the empire and establishing full-blown Novorossiya–also a convenient geo-historical concept for those wishing to fragment Ukraine in the twenty-first century. Both the old maps and the new ones of ambition feature Kherson.
By the end of August, there were tanks, soldiers and forces entering from Russia in the south of Ukraine, constructing a combined separatist region extending from Luhansk to the Sea of Azov. It seemed that Novorossiya may have been resurrected after all, albeit not completely formed. It might not become an independent nation.
But, then again, it could become a stagnant intermediary–like Transnistria in Moldova, like South Ossetia in Georgia–where the globe does not recognize the separate existence that is cut out, and a new bitterness and everlasting doubt pervades the lives of those inhabiting the dissident area.
Reorganizing the same idea, it can be stated that the prevalence of technology in our lives has been developing at a rapid rate.
This has led to the growth of many gadgets and tools that have been integrated into our everyday activities. Consequently, technology has become a large part of our lives and routines, both in our work and personal lives.
Adam Drucker, better known by the alias Doseone, has said his initial attraction to rap was as much about the……