By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Uzhhorod, Ukraine
Listen: Bos report
UZZHOROD, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Ukrainian election officials say they will not consider Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s complaints of presidential election fraud. Results show opposition leader Victor Yanukovich defeated Tymoshenko by 3.5 percentage points in the February 7 runoff election.
The ruling by Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to not investigate allegations of vote rigging is a setback for pro-Western Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s campaign to challenge the results of the February 7 ballot.
Tymoshenko said in a televised appeal to the nation Saturday, February 13, that she is convinced her rival, Victor Yanukovich, who seeks closer ties with neighboring Russia, has not won the presidential election. She stressed she would challenge the results in court.
Prime Minister Tymoshenko said “Ukraine’s election was falsified.” It is not a political declaration, she added, “but the legal assessment of lawyers.” She said there were likely “more than one-million fraudulent votes; the difference between losing and victory.”
The prime minister pledged not to call for street protests similar to those of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which broke out after alleged election fraud. “Ukraine does not need more public strife” but “stability and peace.” That is why she said she would “only defend the voter’s choice in court.”
The prime minister made clear that whatever the outcome of that legal battle, Yanukovich is, in her view, “not the democratically elected president of Ukraine.”
But even here, in Tymoshenko’s political stronghold of Western Ukraine, voters have mixed feelings about her attempts to become president. In the border town of Uzzhorod residents watch electronic billboards, but few can buy the promoted products, as the country faces its deepest recession in recent memory.
Voters also complain about rampant corruption among local authorities. There is a lack of regular running water in several areas. And doctors at the local hospital admit they do not always provide blood to patients that is tested for the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
It was the same hospital where evangelical Christian and activist Svetlana Milchevich passed away last year. Milchevich, who became a voice of the voiceless with her public fight against abuse of power and corruption by Ukrainian authorities, died after officials refused to allow her to seek medical treatment in neighboring Hungary, where she is a registered resident.
Local courts said she could only leave after paying paying about 2,000 euros in local currency for “moral and financial damages” to the influential businessman Josif Ivanovich Kostich. He is a close ally of Uzzhorod’s controversial Mayor Sergei Ratushnyak, whose name is also spelled as Serhiy Ratushniak. Both men have denied wrongdoing.
These social problems also existed before Tymoshenko and her allies launched the Orange Revolution, in which they pledged reforms and prosperity. Now five years, later Nadija Prijma regrets that she and her husband returned from neighboring Slovakia, where she was a baby sitter and cleaned homes while her husband worked in the construction business.
She said when the Orange Revolution began, they decided to return to Ukraine. It is something they now deeply regret, because. “The promises of the Orange Revolution were not kept.” The apparently victorious Yanukovich has pledged to tackle corruption and improve living standards, but not everyone is convinced, including student Andrej Suran, 23.
“I know that in his staff are a lot of very good specialists, but his politics and pro-Russian orientation, I do not like that,” he said. “I do not think that all things that he told to our people is really the truth. So I think that he is not very good for our country.”
There is also international concern that a long post-election battle may worsen Ukraine’s economic outlook and delay the release of more than $16 billion in emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Analysts say the country needs to adopt the 2010 budget to resume cooperation with the IMF to stay afloat, and pay for natural gas imports from Russia.