Voices on the street: young Ukrainians on the 2019 election

Voices on the street: young Ukrainians on the 2019 election8 min read

The last time Ukrainians went to the polls, in 2014, the incumbent president Viktor Yanukovych had fled to Russia and Kiev was recovering from months of public protest. Oligarch Petro Poroshenko won the presidency on the fumes of the Euromaidan Revolution, promising to bring Ukraine closer to Europe and further from Russia.

Soon after, Russia annexed Crimea and launched a proxy war in Eastern Ukraine, plunging the country into a violent and costly conflict. Economic development has been slow, and both domestic activists and international critics point to corruption and government inefficiency as major issues in Ukraine.

On Sunday, March 31st, Ukrainians will once again have the chance to vote for their future. Lossi 36 reached out to seven young Ukrainians to ask for their opinions and predictions.

N.B.: Some of our respondents use different spellings to describe the same people. The candidates referred to below and pictured above are, beginning left: Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Petro Poroshenko, and Volodymyr Zelensky.

Valentine, 23, anesthesiology intern

I feel like this is a very important election, because this might be pretty much the last chance for the ‘old’ and pro-Russian politicians to roll back the changes and set the country back on its pre-2014 course.

The major candidates are Poroshenko, Zelensky and Timoshenko; Gritsenko a close 4th.

Timoshenko has a lot of bad history and her presidency would most likely end in disaster for the country.

Zelensky has no real convictions and is a puppet for Kolomoyskiy (one of the major oligarchs), so no one knows what would happen if he won.

Poroshenko has proven that he’s firmly anti-Russian and has done a lot to strengthen the military and political independence of Ukraine, as well as its international status; but he’s heavily criticised for allowing corruption to run rampant and neglecting court and law enforcement reforms.

Gritsenko alone would have no chance in the election, but he has other minor pro-EU politicians behind him.

I will personally be voting for Gritsenko in the first round and, since he’s unlikely to get enough votes then, for Poroshenko in the second.

Oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Oleg, 33, financial analyst

For the first time in my life we have a President and government that I can actually support instead of treating them as ‘lesser evil’. I feel that we are finally moving in the right direction on the state level and have no doubts about voting for Poroshenko again.

Volodymyr Zelensky in character as President of Ukraine in Servant of the People.

Sonya, 21, graduate student (architecture and city planning)

I think that this election is the one that will define the future of Ukraine. Will our country maintain pro-European course, or will it go back to the role of Russia’s less important neighbour? Of course Petro Poroshenko is the one that will maintain pro-European course, however I do not support idea of someone being a President two times in a row. Seems like we doesn’t have a lot of room to choose: Zelenskiy is just a comedian promoting his new tv-show and interests of quite sketchy oligarch Kolomoyskiy, Tymoshenko is pro-russian that owes Putin a ton of money and president’s post is her last chance. So I think i will vote for Poroshenko, but not because he is such a great choice, only because the others are a lot worse.

Anastasiya, 23, graduate student (democracy and governance)

To some degree my physical distance from Ukraine isolates me from the political discussions going on in Ukraine. I’m following the news, but I’m not completely involved in the current discourse. If I were in Ukraine, I assume that I would hear about politics from every corner, whereas in Estonia I have an opportunity to set a limit to my involvement in the political discourse.  That helps me to not go crazy but the disadvantage is that I miss some of the important events.

To be honest, I am scared of the upcoming elections. None of the candidates appeal to me and casting a vote feels like choosing the less evil. However, I’m scared not by the politicians, I’m scared of the ignorance and desperations that possess society. I’m shocked by the fact that I feel that there is a huge distrust in politicians and that people don’t seem to think about the consequences of casting their vote and politically ignorant candidate.

Maryna, 24, business analyst  

The candidate with the highest rating is the “I hate politicians and I want something different without a clear understanding of what I want” candidate.  Not only has he no political experience, but he claims that this won’t be a problem as he’ll be asking the public’s opinion on all “important matters” (a presidency of countless referendums?). He is basing his entire argument on the political success of the fictional character that he plays on TV,  where an ordinary man become president by accident. A portion of people who are believed to support him will probably not vote at all.

The two most popular candidates who are competing for the second highest rating are our current President and Julia Tymoshenko. Poroshenko did not finalise his term  without a corruption scandal. Despite many rebranding attempts, including new hairstyle and glasses, Tymoshenko can hardly be referred to as a “new face” in politics (as her posters claim) considering that she has been in Ukrainian politics  for 20 years. Years that included scandals, lies and controversial business deals with Russia.

I certainly will vote. I will fly to Ukraine to vote. I do not have a candidate that I love, nor do I believe in any dramatic changes for better. However, I believe that slow positive change trumps reversing all the progress we have made. We also cannot ignore a big group of young people that are fed up with war and want to move on.

Pavlo, 23, graduate student (democracy and governance)

I believe the elections still represent an old fight between different oligarchs and clans.  Although they’re quite pluralistic and democratic, they’re still highly driven by populists. For instance, some of the pro-Russian candidates ( Muraev, Boyko) have promised to stop the war quickly by talking to so-called DNR-LNR (Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, editor’s note)  leaders, however, the key to real solution lies not in Ukraine, but in Moscow.

A lot of Ukrainians are ready to vote for comic figure Zelenskiy, who they’re convinced, is an independent figure with no ties with Kolomoiskiy; one of the most influential people in Ukraine.

I guess in this elections there’s nothing interesting to expect. The choice again boils down to less and bigger evil. It’s unfortunate however, that a lot of people trust the populist slogans. Despite being deceived many times by previous presidents, people are ready to vote for Zelenskiy, who I cannot imagine in meetings with Putin or Trump, negotiating for Ukraine or conducting comprehensive anti-corruption reforms.

All in all, we see the democratic aspect of the coming elections, where the results are unpredictable, at the same time, all candidates are populist with unrealistic programs, hoping  to gain voter’s support by promising all and everything. I don’t expect anything from the election as I know that at this point we have no serious leader who would be ready to conduct serious changes. It’s also that society wouldn’t be ready to accept such a leader. In my mind, society has to be the one that would nurtures such a leader.

A barricade bearing anti-Western slogans in Donetsk. Source: Andrew Butko/Wikimedia Commons

Anton, 24

I think that elections in our country aren’t clear and honest. So people with a lot of money can buy votes, create effective ads for themselves, and so on.

And I have got used to such a situation, and I don’t believe any of the politicians.

Zelenskiy is a pretty interesting option. He has never been a politician and he has good, interesting projects (TV shows), that are good-quality and popular. But, maybe, he has a long-term strategy about his participation in politics (as he created the programme Servant of the People several years ago, where he plays an honest president). And another one frightening factor for me is his connection with Kolomoyskiy – I can’t be sure that Zelenskiy isn’t a servant of Kolomoyskiy.

About the other candidates, I think that they aren’t honest, and the same situation will continue on as it is now (with corruption, poverty, etc.).

Gritsenko might not be such a bad candidate, but he isn’t very popular, so he won’t get a lot of votes

As for me – I won’t vote at all this time.

Header photo credits: Hrytsenko by Cherie A. Thurlby/Wikimedia Commons, Tymoshenko by European People’s Party/Flickr, Poroshenko by Oleg Mosiond/Wikimedia Commons, Zelensky by Maksim Stoyalov/Wikimedia Commons

Amanda Sonesson holds a BA in Economic History at Stockholm University and has previously lived, studied and worked in Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Currently she is studying in the CEERES program hosted by University of Glasgow, Scotland, focusing on gender issues, democracy, politics and society in Russia and Central Asia. Additionally she owns a secret collection of Putin memorabilia and loves everything (post) Soviet.

Louis Train is a graduate student at the School of Politics, Economics, and International Relations at the University of Reading and the faculty of International Relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. His main areas of interest are diplomatic negotiations, Russian foreign policy, cultural diplomacy, and the arts and culture in politics.