Czechs leave for Ukraine to observe presidential elections

Viktor Yushchenko, photo: CTK

The eyes of the world will be focused on Ukraine this weekend, where the second round of a disputed presidential election is being held. There was evidence of mass fraud during the last, annulled vote, which put Viktor Yanukovych ahead of Viktor Yushchenko. Among the electoral observers trying to ensure this weekend's vote will be fairer will be fifty Czech volunteers, who are being briefed in Kiev before being sent off to the regions. Earlier, we spoke to one of the group's co-ordinators, Ondrej Soukup:

Viktor Yushchenko, photo: CTK
"I was also an observer of the second round of the first elections and it was quite interesting because there was a strong presence of foreign observers and it was quite discouraging for the local authorities for any kind of falsification. Of course one thousand foreign observers are unable to oversee everything, especially because the methods used varied. I personally saw buses of people with absentee voting lists go from one polling station to another, to voted several times."

What about the people who are going to be going to Ukraine as observers?

"Most of them are in their thirties but we also have pensioners. The people vary. Some of them work at NGOs [non-governmental organisations], in social welfare; others are journalists. These are people who care about what's going on in Ukraine because all of them speak Russian and we is happening in Ukraine is a revolution, a big change in that part of the world. One of my colleagues said 'a revolution doesn't happen every day, so I'm going'."

How can you tell that they themselves aren't biased?

Voting paper for the presidential elections, photo: CTK
"As an observer, you have to be neutral. I think the main problem of the last round was the enormous pressure from the local authorities that was put on voters and members of the election committees. People were trying to show how loyal they were [to the local authorities] and now they no longer have to."

I know that you're going as a volunteer but it is Christmas, a special time of the year...

"Well, we will see. We don't know where we will be. If we'll be in western Ukraine, we could find a Catholic Church but if we're going to be somewhere in eastern Ukraine like Donetsk, there will be no such place. Ukraine is an Orthodox country and their Christmas is on January 6. So, we will have to improvise."