This is the factsheet that we will distribute on election day. Please pass it on to others.
What is happening in Ukraine?
Today (21 November) Ukrainians are voting for a new president. Today’s vote is a runoff, held after the first round on 31 October failed to produce a clear winner. Viktor Yanukovych, who has been endorsed by the current Ukrainian president and the Russian government, is running against Viktor Yushchenko. The campaign and the previous round of the election have been marked by serious violations of democratic principles and human rights.
Censorship. Virtually all media in Ukraine are controlled by the government, and journalists who probe too deeply into sensitive matters are attacked and even killed. Shortly before the first vote, the government tried to shut down the sole remaining independent television channel, TV5. A local court unfroze the channel’s assets after its journalists staged a week-long hunger strike.
Persecution of activists. Throughout Ukraine, people have been arrested and imprisoned purely for expressing their political views. A particular target has been the youth movement PORA (It’s Time). Amnesty International recently stated: ‘The number of such detentions that are taking place across Ukraine and the numerous violations of procedures raise concerns that these young people may have been detained for their legitimate and peaceful opposition activities.’
Electoral irregularities. International observers found that voters were bribed and threatened; that some registered voters were left off the election rolls, while others appeared more than once; and that some ballots were pre-marked for Yanukovych.
What does this mean for the rest of the world?
Democracy in the former Soviet Union is under threat. In Ukraine’s neighbour, Belarus, the prime minister has changed the constitution to allow himself to rule indefinitely. In Russia, Vladimir Putin is on the verge of abolishing regional elections, and he has made it virtually impossible for opposition parties to get into government. It is vital that Ukraine does not fall into the same trap. In a leader on 28 October, The Economist said: ‘Ukraine's [election] will help map out not only the future shape of Europe but also the relationship between the West and another, colder East … Showing that Ukraine can escape the Soviet legacy will be a powerful argument against those who believe that Russia and its neighbours are condemned to it.’
What can we in Britain do?
Other countries must insist that the Ukrainian government allow fair elections without interference and that it respect the fundamental human right to free expression. The European Union is in a unique position to help. The prospect of membership has encouraged other countries, such as Turkey and Romania, to clean up corruption and increase civil liberties. We believe Ukraine, too, should be offered this incentive. We are asking people to write to their Member of the European Parliament; we have attached a sample letter you can send.
Whether you write to your MEP or not, we urge you not to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former USSR. We know the region does not get much coverage in the British press, and people must sometimes make a special effort to find out about it. But we must let the leaders in this region know that the world will not remain indifferent to oppression.
Who are you, anyway?
We are ordinary citizens and do not represent an organisation. We are very concerned about the events in Ukraine and feel that they have not received enough coverage in the Western media. We have taken it upon ourselves to inform people of the situation and encourage them to take action.
Do you support a particular candidate?
No. That is a choice for the Ukrainian people. We are asking only that their choice be measured fairly and respected, and that people on all sides be allowed to express their opinions freely.
Can I help you with future information campaigns?
We would be delighted to hear from you; please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.