Volume 74, Number 34 | December 29 - January 04, 2004

Villager photo by Ramin Talaie

On Christmas evening, East Villagers at St. George’s Church on E. Seventh St. prayed and held a vigil for the rerun of the Ukrainian election.

Orange victory tastes sweet for local Ukrainians

By Justin Rocket Silverman

Despite the freezing temperatures that descended on the city last weekend, hundreds of East Village residents could be seen walking with a spring in their step, as if the orange scarves they wore made them immune to the cold.

For them and other Ukrainian citizens living abroad, last Sunday’s presidential election brought the fulfillment of a dream that was born even before Joseph Stalin allowed millions of Ukrainians to starve to death while he sold their grain to raise hard currency for the Soviet Union.

“We have been praying for an election that is peaceful and correct,” said Reverend Bernard Panczuk during an all-night Christmas vigil that began on the Saturday before the election. “The other guy spells a return to the communism that these people have been running from all their lives.”

Panczuk said his church, St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, on E. Seventh St., came out in support of opposition presidential candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, because “voting for the other guy would be slicing our own throats.”

The thousands of Ukrainian citizens who cast ballots at their country’s consulate near the United Nations on Sunday seemed to agree with Panczuk. Exit polls outside the consulate showed virtually unanimous support for Yushchenko over his opponent Viktor Yanukovich.

“I think the whole diaspora is supportive of Yushchenko,” said East Village resident Ulana Kekish before casting her ballot. “This is a candidate who is a godsend, the only one who can bring Ukraine out of this darkness.”

A majority of voters in Ukraine itself seemed to agree with the sentiments of their countrymen living in the East Village, and Yushchenko won the popular vote by a margin of almost 10 percent.

Kiev restaurant on Second Ave. turned into a post-election party on Sunday, as the owners opened the restaurant for East Villagers returning from casting their ballots at the consulate in Midtown. Among the guests who enjoyed drinks and food at the restaurant was Oksana Lada, a native Ukrainian and actress on HBO’s “The Sopranos.”

“It doesn’t matter that it is cold outside, or that we stood for hours before we could vote,” said Nicolai Doliba, who sat at Kiev celebrating the election with friends and early afternoon cocktails on Sunday. “Everyone is in the spirit of democracy and it warms you.”

The century-old Ukrainian community in the East Village has proven to be one of Yushchenko’s strongest bases of grassroots support overseas. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed through the Self Reliance Federal Credit Union on Second Ave. to the streets of Kiev, where the money helped sustain the tent city that sprang up in opposition to fraudulent election results last month.

Signs in both English and Ukrainian, as well as the ubiquitous orange banners that symbolized Yushchenko’s party, have become a part of East Village life over the last month. The orange banners were especially concentrated around St. George’s Church, a century-old parish that is home to one of the largest and longest-standing Ukrainian communities in the United States.
“Everyone in this community who is politically conscious wants to see change back home,” said Andriy Pradyvus, 21. “Right now we are working to make a future for our children and even make it possible for them to return to Ukraine one day. This will only happen if Yushchenko wins. There is no other way.”

Pradyvus’ mother, Olexrsandra Pradyvus, spent the night before the election praying at the vigil at St. George’s Church and then the whole of election day in front of the consulate handing out the hot cabbage and mushroom crepes known as “nalysnyk” in Ukrainian.

“We can’t know what is the will of God,” she said, “but we are asking and we are praying for God to help our country to have more freedom.”

Once it became clear that he had garnered most of the popular vote, Yushchenko, his face still a mass of bloating and wrinkles from a recent attempt to murder him with poison, thanked the jubilant crowds in Kiev for believing in him. He promised a new era of openness and democracy in the former Soviet republic.

Ukrainians in the East Village watched news broadcasts into the wee hours on Sunday night, a mood of disbelief and joy showing itself in their tears and laughter.

“This is a victory of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian nation,” the new president-elect declared on television. “We were independent for 14 years, today we became free.”

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