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KREMENCHUK, Ukraine — Here, communism’s monuments were never toppled. Fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a 25-foot statue of Lenin, hand in pocket, eyes fixed steadily toward Moscow, stands guard over the immense cobblestone square in front of City Hall. In the center of downtown, a Christmas tree sparkling with blue lights is overshadowed by a towering stone pillar capped by the U.S.S.R.’s hammer and sickle. In much of the rest of Ukraine, the public symbols of communism were ceremoniously smashed after independence. Like pieces of the Berlin Wall, Ukrainians saved fragments of the broken statues as souvenirs: a piece of Lenin’s ear squirreled away in a bedroom drawer, a curling finger kept in a box in the basement. But in this industrial city of 250,000 in east central Ukraine, the Soviet past has been omnipresent. That was true, at least, until Nov. 21, when widespread fraud in the presidential election appeared to hand power to the Russian-backed candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. That led supporters of the pro-Western contender, Viktor Yushchenko, to pour into the streets of Kiev, sparking a peaceful revolution that spread to Ukraine’s countryside, to cities like Kremenchuk. Kremenchuk was as good as any place to examine what’s become known as the Orange Revolution. In part that’s because the city straddles Ukraine’s political fault line, the Dnieper River, whose dark polluted waters run south from Russia and Belorussia through Kiev and empty into the Black Sea near the port of Odessa. To one side of the river lies Ukraine’s Russian-speaking East, a region of massive Soviet-era steel plants and coal mines. There, nostalgia for the Soviet Union runs deep. And while ownership of many of the factories in Ukraine’s Rust Belt quietly passed from the state to a group of oligarchs close to current President Leonid Kuchma in the 1990s, the vast majority of those who work in them are fiercely loyal to Kuchma’s protege Yanukovych. In Donetsk, Yanukovych’s hometown near the Russian border, the prime minister received more than 90 percent of the ballot during the Dec. 26 revote. His support was driven in part by fears that economic opening to the West would lead to the shuttering of many of the factories and mines. That sort of economic nationalism resonates too in Kremenchuk, which is home to a large oil refinery, a truck plant and a railway carriage factory. Igor Balkovi, 33, a teacher at a technical school in Kremenchuk, says that Yushchenko’s reform plans would hollow out the city’s economy. “Yushchenko will prostitute us,” he says in cautious English. “If Yushchenko is president, all of our enterprises will be bought by foreign businesses.” But those in Kiev and largely Ukrainian-speaking regions west of the Dnieper tend to see their future not with their neighbors in authoritarian Russia but in wealthier, democratic Poland, a member of both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “People in Ukraine see that their cousins in Poland are building McMansions and their cousins in Russia aren’t,” says David Lorello, a D.C.-based lawyer who was in Ukraine as a volunteer election monitor. “They want to be like their cousins in Poland.” A RETURN ENGAGEMENT It’s Dec. 24, two days before the new election, and three international monitors, Americans Lorello and Elena Volochay and French businessman Christian Carrer, arrive in Kremenchuk to observe the voting. Lorello, an associate at D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson, and Carrer had witnessed the now-invalid election of Nov. 21, and their report played a key role in persuading Ukraine’s Supreme Court to toss out the vote. Volochay grew up and became a lawyer in Ukraine, but now lives in Washington and works as a paralegal at Steptoe. They’re met at a restaurant by a dozen members of the city’s press corps — hardly any of whom appear older than 25. Already, they report, there is word that roughly 40 pro-Yanukovych men from the eastern city of Lugansk have arrived in Kremenchuk. The fear is that they’ve come under guise as election observers to disrupt the elections, perhaps by tampering with ballot boxes or by preventing local election boards from certifying results. That night, walking to a local store, Volochay passes a knot of drunken young men dressed in black outside of a bar. Are they from Lugansk? It’s not clear. “They make me uncomfortable,” Volochay says. The following day, a group of reporters visits the local office of the Yanukovych campaign, which lies in an older building off a side street near the town’s market. Packed within a single high-ceilinged room are two desks and nearly two dozen people, yet the office is strangely quiet. There appears to be little campaign work being done. Tkaschenko Andriyuna, a stern looking woman in her mid-50s with deep black hair, is spokeswoman for Yanukovych’s local campaign. During Soviet times, she had been a high-ranking official in the local party. She sits to talk while her middle-aged campaign workers sit closely behind her in two rows, listening intently. Andriyuna does not have kind words for Yushchenko supporters. “They’re lazy,” she says through a translator. “They’re people who haven’t been able to better themselves and can’t become successful by themselves without seizing control of the government.” (Most interviews with Ukrainians for this article were conducted through a translator.) Did she and the Yanukovych campaign participate in the fraud during the November elections? Of course not. “The people who vote for Yanukovych would never disrupt an election,” she says. “They’re workers. They have no time for such things.” Two local reporters in the group attempt to ask her follow-up questions, but she shushes them in a stream of icy Russian. Unwisely, they’ve worn their orange scarves — the symbol of Yushchenko’s candidacy — and she points out there is little use in her speaking with journalists who are so obviously biased. When asked why she’s so angry at the local reporters, she retorts that they “print everything backward” from the truth. How might she explain the reports of fraud in Kremenchuk by foreign observers? “All foreign observers are for Yushchenko,” she says, mirroring an argument made by Yanukovych himself. Have the 40 visitors from Lugansk come to disrupt the election? They’re election monitors, Andriyuna says. “They have as much right to be here as anyone else.” The local Yushchenko office couldn’t be more different. An assortment of cell phones and ancient Soviet-looking land phones ring constantly while a host of teenage and twenty-something campaign workers dart frantically about exchanging messages and shouting about a recent change in the law regarding home voting for the elderly and disabled. The local party chairwoman, Vloshuna Volodomurivna, a lively former teacher wearing what must be a week’s salary worth of makeup, attempts to give an interview while juggling two phones and barking orders to her staff. “If Yanukovych is declared the winner in a clean election, we would accept it,” she says. “But that’s impossible.” Volodomurivna says she’s worried about the 40 men from Lugansk, saying that her sources tell her their goal is to keep people in pro-Yushchenko districts from voting. How? It’s unclear, she says, but Yanukovych supporters in other regions have provoked fights with Yushchenko supporters and destroyed ballot boxes and polling stations. The chief of police, she says, has promised to intervene this time if there are problems. FIRST-TIME FRAUD Lorello and Carrer had seen such problems first hand during the Nov. 21 run-off between Yushchenko and Yanukovych. That day’s voting had begun smoothly enough, but by 10 a.m., they say, a group of at least two dozen buses began to roll into Kremenchuk from Donetsk and other places. When Lorello and Carrer pulled up in front of a downtown hotel, several buses were already there idling, and small groups of unfriendly-looking young men stood on the sidewalk out front. “That’s when all hell broke loose in Kremenchuk,” Lorello says. As the monitors got out of their car, they were immediately confronted by a mob of about 30 men, two of whom were brandishing pistols. As their Russian-speaking driver attempted to defuse the situation, Lorello and Carrer decided to make for the safety of the hotel restaurant. They say a group of eight young men, many wearing black knit caps, followed them inside and sat at the table immediately next to theirs. As Lorello and Carrer finished their coffee, two local reporters arrived, video camera rolling. The men soon boarded their buses and began to disperse to several of Kremenchuk’s more than 100 polling stations. During the November runoff in Ukraine, citizens were allowed to vote absentee by presenting a certificate at any polling station in the country. Though this may have proved a convenience for some, it also opened the door to widespread fraud by the Yanukovych campaign. After the buses departed, Carrer and Lorello went to City Hall to inform the city’s election board chief that the rumored voting fraud appeared set to begin. The official, Alexander Tatarenov, told them, “I know what’s going on. Let’s go to the polling station.” The two foreigners, Tatarenov, and several city election officials then departed for a polling station where one of the buses had reportedly headed. Upon arrival, they found a bus parked outside. Inside, the bus’s occupants gathered around the ballot box brandishing absentee certificates and attempting to vote while polling officials tried to ward them off. Armed only with a copy of Ukraine’s election law, Lorello, Carrer, and Tatarenov confronted the absentee voters. After vigorous debate, the local polling commission decided to bar the absentee voters from the polling place. The victory, however, was short-lived. Lorello and Carrer then left for a second polling station, where local journalists had reported another bus had arrived. Once there, they saw a similar scene unfolding. But Tatarenov says they received word from local election officials that the Central Election Committee in Kiev, a board stacked with Yanukovych supporters, had ruled that the busloads of absentee voters were to be allowed to cast their ballots. Over the protests of Lorello, Carrer, and several poll monitors, the bus’s 40 or so occupants were permitted to vote. Lorello says a polling official, a man in his 60s, turned to him with tears rolling down his face. “I’m ashamed for my country,” he said. That afternoon, Carrer and Lorello traveled to three other polling places in Kremenchuk, where they say they witnessed busloads of absentee voters arrive and cast ballots. At one station, two Donetsk buses pulled in at the same time. At another, they saw and photographed a busload of voters cast their ballots, then pile into the bus and drive less than a mile down the road to another polling place to vote again. That night, Carrer and Lorello monitored the vote-counting at a station that had been visited by numerous buses. More than 10 percent of the votes cast had been absentee ballots. At polling stations that had not been visited by buses, it was less than 1 percent. Nearly all of the absentee votes were for the government candidate, Yanukovych. The problems in Kremenchuk were mirrored throughout Ukraine. In at least one pro-opposition city, acid was poured into ballot boxes. Official turnout in the Donetsk region was 109 percent. In another city, an election official was caught on videotape pulling five ballots from a box that appeared to have been marked and then folded one on top of each other. Over protests from Yushchenko supporters, the votes were counted. Each was for Yanukovych. In Kremenchuk, despite the fraud, Yushchenko still won more than half the vote — but his margin of victory was significantly smaller than the results from the first round of voting would have indicated. Officially, national results showed Yanukovych winning the election by 3 percentage points, though exit polls showed Yushchenko winning by double-digit margins. AGENTS ORANGE The results led hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters to throng the streets of Kiev. In Kremenchuk, though, news of the protests was slow to arrive. Ukraine’s single independent news channel, Channel Five, isn’t shown in Kremenchuk, and the government kept a tight rein on Ukraine’s five other television channels during the campaign — essentially blackballing Yushchenko from the airwaves. But within days, that control was faltering under protests from journalists. In Kremenchuk, that situation was playing out on a smaller scale. At Vichnuk Kremenchuka ( Kremenchuk Messenger), the city’s official newspaper, coverage in the run-up to the election had focused exclusively on Yanukovych, as directed by Mayor Mykola Hlukhov, according to two local reporters. “Even the sports pages,” says Kyryll Zhyvotoskiy, a local freelance television journalist, “were filled with articles about how Yanukovych helps athletes.” But within a day of the election, a newsroom rebellion was afoot, and reporters began demanding that editors run articles about Yushchenko and the election fraud. The last straw, according to Jania Gamza, a diminutive 26-year-old reporter with fiery red hair, came when the largely youthful staff presented a black-and-white proof of the paper’s back page to its 55-year-old editor for approval. What they failed to mention was that the presses had been ordered to run the page entirely in orange ink — Yushchenko’s color. When the paper appeared on doorsteps and newsstands the next day, the editor felt a compelling need to take a vacation. A similar revolution was playing out in local politics. After a heated debate and five votes, Kremenchuk’s city council narrowly passed a resolution of no confidence in the election results. When Mayor Hlukhov initially refused to sign it, he was confronted by a group of angry citizens demanding his resignation. According to the local press corps, the mayor suddenly discovered a wealth of unused sick leave and disappeared for several weeks. On Dec. 3, Ukraine’s Supreme Court officially invalidated the results of the Nov. 21 election. Among the four examples presented by Yushchenko’s lawyers was Lorello and Carrer’s account of the highly organized absentee vote fraud in Kremenchuk, fraud that Carrer maintains could never have been carried out without the complicity of local officials. A SECOND DAY OF DECISION Election Day dawns gray and overcast, a mild thaw turning the snow in the square in front of City Hall into icy puddles. Mayor Hlukhov has only recently returned to the city after the Supreme Court ruling and an agreement between President Kuchma and the Parliament paved the way for new elections. Hlukhov, a balding thin-lipped man in a gray suit, was a prominent official in the local Communist Party prior to its collapse. He treats the foreign press deferentially, but the local reporters receive more hostile treatment. Why didn’t he stop the voting fraud during the last election? Hlukhov’s deputy says that, in Kremenchuk, “We didn’t have many [voting] violations.” The mayor adds that any violations couldn’t have “changed the results from our city” and that the enforcement of election law was and is not his responsibility. As for the 25 buses that descended on Kremenchuk during November’s election, “We can’t prove they violated election law,” he says. As Jania Gamza attempts to ask a follow-up question about the mayor’s previous campaigning for Yanukovych, a violation of Ukrainian election law, he silences her angrily. “Your job is to print what I say first,” he says. Still, the mayor seems embarrassed about the conduct of the last round of elections, and wants to reassure the room that this time the process will be completely transparent. As the hours drift by, the international observers and local journalists, moving from polling place to polling place, become increasingly nervous. “It’s too quiet,” Lorello says. “Something must be up.” At one polling station in a school, a local monitor for the Yanukovych campaign, a well-muscled tough with a broken nose, tells reporters that voters donning orange scarfs are violating the election law banning advertising on Election Day. “Orange is the color of agitation,” he says. What of voters wearing blue and yellow, Yanukovych’s colors? Gamza asks. It’s not the same, the monitor replies. But the day does pass uneventfully. At 8 p.m., a dozen of the local reporters gather at a local sports bar showing an Italian soccer match on a wall-sized television. They’re joined by Max Levchuk, a charismatic, 27-year-old opposition deputy to the regional assembly who wears a Western suit and turtleneck. A cheer goes up as the news flashes exit poll results showing Yushchenko with a 15-point lead. Outside City Hall, roughly three dozen young men have gathered in support of Yushchenko. “We’re here to defend the vote counting,” one says in English. In the hallway outside the mayor’s office, a reporter identifies a man skulking out of the mayor’s office as the head of the local Yanukovych campaign. As he passes a group of journalists, he shoots them an evil look. Inside, the mayor is already a new man. Early returns from Kremenchuk show Yanukovych losing by more than a dozen points, and the television is filled with images of roaring crowds in Kiev greeting Yushchenko. His face red, his forehead damp, Hlukhov rushes to his desk to retrieve an orange folder. Inside is a letter signed by Yushchenko promising forgiveness for those who worked for Yanukovych. Jania Gamza and the other reporters are already having a heated discussion with the mayor about press freedom, about the mayor’s campaigning for Yanukovych, and about his failure to arrest the absentee voters during the last election. The mayor waves his arms and raises his voice, and the reporters raise their voices louder. In the hallway outside the mayor’s office, Levchuk laughs. “We have a plastic mayor,” he says. “He changes direction with the wind.” In Kremenchuk, it seems, that wind is finally blowing freedom. Jason McLure is a reporter for Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

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