2014 Ukraine Presidential Elections Support Mission
I was part of the OSCE 2014 Ukraine presidential elections support mission. I felt the trip would change anyone’s perspective about the need to reflect on the ethic of care for others.
I think this experience was not so much about the technical or observing side of elections, or even the security issues, the police, the war, military presence, checkpoints or roadblocks, the political problems, but about the people living there. People seemed either caught in the middle of all this, living every day with anxiety, uncertainty or fear; living away from the conflict in big cities like Kiev, in lives quite normal and happy.
My team was sent to an area next to Donetsk on the Asov Sea, a Russian speaking area.
I guess it was the emotional context that struck me the most. Once we were in a remote village in a Russian speaking area and stopped to get directions. Unfortunately, we were driving in a big black Jeep Grand Cherokee with tinted windows. My driver and interpreter, both Russian speaking, were assumed to be separatists or gangsters and were asked if we were here to kill anyone. Is this what some live with when strangers show up here?
In another village, they obviously had never seen international observers before. After being denied access to a polling station, we had a long discussion with the police, even attracting the attention of a very suspicious district police Colonel who allowed us access under strict police escort and presence.
At another polling station, the Colonel showed up again and, as it was closed, called the polling station committee member, an old lady with a headscarf. With some concern for her, my interpreter told me the Colonel told her not to be afraid of these people and just answer their questions. There were two police there, one a quite watchful policewoman with the most wooden, unemotional look I have ever seen, almost as if helpless to prevent anything I could do to upset the old woman or make her afraid.
No response when I said hello to her. I was sure she was figuring where she would like to shoot me if she could.
Since everyone was so tense, I decided to put the checklist aside and just sat beside the old woman and talked about Canada, and why we were here, and how she was doing, and her views on the election and life in the village. I had her show me how people would vote here and I commented on how ready she was, and the good she was doing for the village and country.
After a while she really brightened up and became quite animated and my translator could not keep up.
When I got up to leave she took my hand in both of hers and would not let go for a while, wanting us to come back on election day to be with them. I put my arm around her for a moment. I then did the rounds of everyone there saying spasibo and das vidanya and shaking hands and began to leave.
As I stepped through the door to leave to building, I turned and the police woman was there behind me. She looked at me and simply and firmly said "Good Bye" in what sounded like the only English words she knew, and gave me a smile that I do not think I will ever forget for the rest of my life.
Sometimes life has a way of working out.
All this was in my head for quite a while. Seemed to me that the peacemaker thing of “presence, impartiality, values and communication” really counts. The value of heart-level relational talk before mind-level checklist stuff. Just being with people in their lives and times of crisis. Anyway, a tiring but rewarding mission. A beautiful country with many good people. I have hope for them but know it will not be easy.
Paul Maillet, Colonel (retired), email@example.com, PAUL MAILLET CENTER FOR ETHICS (http://paulmailletethics.wordpress.com), ACCREDITED PEACE PROFESSIONAL Civilian Peace Service Canada, (http://paulmailletpeacemaker.wordpress.com).