The OSCE/ODIHR pulled off an amazing feat in bringing over 1000 international observers to Ukraine to assist in ensuring the presidential election was fair and transparent. I was honoured to be one of 135 Canadians on this mission and one of 235 total Canadian observers in country. The OSCE final report is based on the accumulation of thousands of observer reports: “This election proved the democratic spirit of the people of Ukraine, who had the opportunity to genuinely express their will at the ballot box, and seized it in high numbers,” said João Soares, the Special Co-ordinator who led the short-term OSCE observer mission. “The electoral and security authorities of Ukraine should be commended for their efforts – under extraordinary circumstances – to facilitate an election that largely upheld democratic commitments.”

Our journey from Ottawa landed us in the capital Kyiv where we spent two days in orientation preparing for our task with a little time to check out the city, especially exploring Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square.

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With my partner Fritz, I was assigned to the District Election Commission in Khust, Zakarpattya Oblast near both the Hungarian and Romanian border. To get to the area our Team 13, along with Team 12, jumped on the overnight train. We were heading to the far side of the Carpathian Mountains to Zakarpattya Oblast. We awoke, after going through the mountains, to a picturesque country side with rolling hills and small farms and gardens everywhere. The villages were misty with church roofs gleaming in the early morning sun.

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We disembarked at Mukacheve and met our translator Sophie from Uzhhorod and our driver Roman from Khust. After our local briefing with Team 13 LTOs Michael and Peder we headed the one hour east to Khust.IMG_1075

As Team B, Frist, Roman, Sophie and I were assigned to check out the activities at a few polling stations on election day but our main assignment was to watch the post-election overnight tabulation at the District Election Commission. An assignment I was not sure I was fit for given I am usually asleep by 10 pm!

On Saturday the 24th we dropped into polling stations in our area of assignment to check on voting preparations and made an observation plan for Eday. We were warmly welcomed as international observers wherever we went. Eday we were off to 4 polls in the morning, rested, then two more polls in the evening, observing the count at one of them. Then at 2230 headed to the DEC for the tabulation. The DEC worked hard and finished their processing of precinct voting results for 100+ polls around 6:30 am. We then walked to our hotel and hit the sack. Some views near Khust including a little cow traffic jam:

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After filing all our observation forms, a little more touring and the purchase of Ukrainian vodka and President-elect Poroshenko’s Roshen chocolate for souvenirs, we were back on the night train to Kyiv. More adventures on the night train that included roadside homemade wine, fresh sheep cheese, more wine, beer and perhaps a little Ukrainian vodka. Most slept well that night. We had one more day of debrief, a final drive around Kyiv and then, for many Canadians, to the airport at 3am.

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With little sleep the whole week, simply an amazing experience and feeling honoured to be warmly welcomed by Ukrainians to provide international election observation. In west Ukraine, Zacarpattya Oblast polls were fully operational and calm on election day. Unfortunately some polls in the east and south Donetsk and Luhansk did not open. While there is still hard work to be done in Ukraine, including the release of two OSCE conflict resolution special monitoring mission teams, the OSCE noted this election was another step forward to stability. Much thanks to Team 1304B Fritz, Roman, and Sophie. Kudos to our coordinating Long Term Observers Michael, Peder and Natalia and to the marvellous and inspirational Team 13 – Nancy my train cabin-mate, Stig, Micheal, Kent, Linda, Lauren, Lukas, Robert, Kazi, Sarah, Nikola, Tomasz, and Andrezej. Best to more new friends, and most of all, wishing wisdom and tenacity to President Poroshenko and to Ukrainians. I hope we see each other again soon, perhaps in the fall. Thanks all. AM.

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