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Ukraine

Inside Ukraine's Make-Or-Break Elections

Old battles are renewed in the May 25 vote to be Ukraine's next president. But the first order of business is to make sure the ballot takes place.

May 11 referendum in Luhansk
May 11 referendum in Luhansk
Valeri Kalnish

KIEV — The mood around Ukraine is tense, and some places are even seeing military battles. But in the capital, there is only one issue on the minds of the political elite: the Presidential elections, slated for May 25.

Ukraine has never been so eager to go to the polls. The country needs a new president in order to be able to interact with the rest of the world with a legitimate representative, whose mandate has been confirmed by the whole country. But is that simple goal achievable?

It’s obvious to everyone that the current presidential election in Ukraine is, like previous elections, a choice based on likability, “voting with the heart,” and facing the cold reality that none of the candidates actually has a solid electoral platform. The current candidates spend most of their time just saying that “everything will be OK,” mixed with some military rhetoric and talk of strengthening Ukraine’s armed forces as a top priority for the nation.

It seems, however, that Ukrainians are not too interested in a military president: The most strident rhetoric comes from the least popular candidates. Sociologists say that the real demand is for an economist, someone capable of increasing Ukraine’s standard of living. But that person should be honest and not provide growth by trading away Ukrainian territory.

A common theme among all of the candidates is the idea that Ukraine’s regions need to have more autonomy. That is an obvious response to the current situation, amidst clashes in the east, the loss of Crimea, and declarations of independence by self-appointed local "republics."

Many support the idea that local decisions need to be made locally, not through orders from Kiev. At the same time, no one is prepared to discuss the idea of a federalist Ukraine, or otherwise risking a loss of national unity.

In summary, the portrait of the successful candidate for president of Ukraine would be patriotic, would support local independence, especially in the economic sphere, would speak both Russian and Ukrainian and would be oriented towards Ukraine’s integration into the European Union.

Reliving past battles

Just over a week ahead of the vote, Petro Poroshenko is ahead in the polls, garnering some 33% support, ahead of once jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at 10%. The Razumkov Center, which conducted the poll, predicts, that Poroshenko is in a very strong position to win in the second round runoff.

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Petro Poroshenko — Photo: Munich Security Conference

This is not the first time that Poroshenko and Tymoshenko have competed. In 2005, they both served in Viktor Yushchenko’s cabinet after the "Orange Revolution," and wound up accusing each other of corruption in a political firestorm that led Yushchenko to dismiss his entire cabinet.

The two leading candidates have remained more civil towards each other during the current campaign, though Tymoshenko has called Poroshenko “a compromise candidate for Ukraine’s oligarchs.”

At a recent press conference, Andrei Magera, deputy director of the Central Election Commission, said the May 25 vote "will take place no matter what." He acknowledged that there was the risk that voting in certain occupied territories may be hindered by the ongoing clashes.

Magera said the elections will be considered valid no matter how many areas do not participate, according to Ukrainian law on presidential elections. “It’s hard for me to believe that the entire Luhansk or Donetsk regions would not participate,” he said.

Theoretically, at least, there is a chance that the elections could be cancelled. The law provides for canceling elections in “emergency” situations. But it is unlikely that you would find any politician who would argue that Ukraine doesn’t need these elections.

Mykhaylo Okhendovsky, director of Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, said in an interview to “Left Bank,” a Ukrainian magazine, said the campaign goes beyond the simple act of electing a president. "The elections allow the country to pull back the curtain of tension and not lead to the political alienation of any region,” he said.

In Kiev, everyone we talked to agrees: There is simply no option other than holding elections. The harder question is to know what might happen afterwards.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Is Turning Into A "New Israel" — Where Everyone Is A Soldier

From businessmen to farmers, Ukrainian society has been militarizing for the past six months to defend its sovereignty. In the future it may find itself like Israel, permanently armed to protect its sovereignty.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to shoot and other military skills at a shooting range in Lviv on July 30, 2022.

Guillaume Ptak

KYIV — The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. Vladimir Putin's army has suffered its worst setback since the beginning of the invasion. The Russian army has experienced a counter-offensive that many experts consider masterful, so it must retreat and cede vast territories to its opponent.

The lightning victory that the head of the Kremlin had dreamed of never took place. The losses are considerable — Ukrainian troops on the battlefield now outnumber the Russians.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted that at the end of the conflict, Ukraine would become a "big Israel". In an interview with Ukrainian media, he said then, "In all the institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons."

The problem of national security will be the country's most important one in the next decade. An "absolutely liberal, and European" society would therefore no longer be on the agenda, according to the Ukrainian president.

Having long since swapped his suit and tie for a jacket or a khaki T-shirt during his public appearances, Zelensky has undeniably become one of the symbols of this growing militarization of Ukrainian society. However, the president claimed that Ukraine would not become an "authoritarian" regime: "An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. Ukrainians know what they are fighting for."

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