Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba MP watches as Ukrainians vote

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REPORTING 30 kilometres from the Russian border Sunday, MP James Bezan said he was hearing of intimidation and threats, even possible deaths, as Ukrainians voted in their presidential election.

But those reports were in limited areas and didn't appear to affect the legitimacy of the election, the Interlake-Selkirk MP said.

But, Bezan emphasized from the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Sunday evening and overnight would tell the tale.

"We're at a critical stage," he said, as evening came to his observation post.

Evening and overnight are when ballot-box-stuffing, vote-rigging and other skullduggery have happened in past elections, said Bezan, a Conservative MP.

"It is usually in the evening that things can go awry," Bezan said. The observers hope that by today they'll be able to give international credibility to the election results, he said.

"We're looking forward to working with the future president of Ukraine."

Bezan told Canadian reporters in a teleconference call from Kharkiv he was not aware of any problems affecting the 350-plus Canadian election observers and had not felt he was in any personal danger.

That was despite police and bomb-sniffing dogs called in to the polling stations he was observing after Ukrainian election officials received bomb threats.

"Despite the violence and aggression we've seen from pro-Russian separatists, as well as Russian provocation, Ukrainians were resilient and brave and turned out today," Bezan said.

"The situation here today (Sunday) was very calm and peaceful. There was a pro-Ukrainian rally" as well as a pro-Russian rally that drew only about 300 people. "It was done very respectfully."

"It's very quiet and peaceful, even towards the Russian border," Bezan said.

Bezan, a member of Canada's 350-member election-observation team, described Ukrainians as resilient and brave, adding they turned out in substantial numbers across the country to cast their ballots.

Bezan said there were reports of possible kidnappings and of journalists killed in Donetsk, but he had not heard direct reports of any problems with violence or voting irregularities from election observers.

Ukrainian officials have reported they arranged alternate polling locations for those prevented from voting in a handful of cities and towns, Bezan said. "We knew there were going to be difficulties in those areas.

As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, "We want to see him start working with Ukraine and respecting Ukraine," said Bezan.

Bezan reiterated the Conservative government's call for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine. He said Ukrainians are "extremely thankful" for Canada's strong position against Russia.

He signed off, saying, "I have to go back to counting ballots."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2014 A3

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