ABU DHABI // Hundreds of Ukrainians living in the UAE took time out to vote in their country’s presidential elections on Sunday.
More than 600 voters were expected to play their part in what they hoped would be Ukraine’s first step towards stability.
“I believe that for people who live outside of Ukraine, this is the least we can do to help our country, especially at this time,” said Ievgen Ianyshyn, who has been working at the duty-free shops at Abu Dhabi Airport for nine months. “It’s a very sensitive time for Ukraine and I believe everyone who is outside the country should participate.”
He said he was concerned about his brother, who enlisted in the army last month.
“I really worry about the situation in Ukraine and I hope that, after these elections, everything is going to calm down,” he said. “This is the time we’ve been waiting for and, hopefully, in a few weeks everything will be fine.”
Although his family lives in south Ukraine, which is relatively calm, he still feels uneasy.
“We still can’t be sure because every day anything can change in a minute,” said Mr Ianyshyn, who had his country’s flag draped around his shoulders. “I love my country, I do what I can to support it and I say ‘Slava Ukraini’, which means glory to Ukraine.”
Denis and Ina Musiyichuk, who came to the polling station wearing traditional Ukrainian outfits, said the day marked an important moment for Ukrainians around the world.
“All our family and friends are voting today, whether there or abroad,” Mr Musiyichuk said. “In general, presidential elections are important but at this particular moment in Ukraine, it’s crucial because the country is apparently at war and the new president will be able to sort things out.
“We really hope that the situation will calm down and Ukraine will prosper and become a stable, civilised and rich country.”
They couple were hopeful enough about the future to book flights for a trip home.
“We visit twice a year and, fingers crossed, we will go back this summer,” Mrs Musiyichuk said. “It depends on the outcome of the elections.”
“If these presidential elections are not recognised or Russia moves forward and the escalation of the situation becomes worse, it will be quite dangerous,” Mr Musiyichuk said. “We really don’t think it’ll happen and we hope for the best.”
Maryna Tuzhanska, a 21-year-old student at NYU Abu Dhabi, said voting was a personal responsibility.
“It’s one of the few ways we have to show our opinion to the government and it’s not to be missed,” she said. “No matter what side the citizens support, I think we all unite in the hope for peace these days, and that should be the main goal for everyone.
“Most people are much more aware of the situation and it’s a big chance for a change.”
Voter turnout was expected to increase from 65 per cent in previous elections to more than 80 per cent, said Yuriy Polurez, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UAE.
“According to preliminary estimates, today will be a very high turnout in Ukraine, with more than 80 per cent because it is very crucial,” he said. “It is an extremely important day for my country and these are the most important elections.
“Today, Ukrainian people vote for freedom, independence and for a European choice.”
He said he was optimistic that the election would lead to peace.
“The reason there was a trigger of these very sad events in my country was the refusal of the former president to sign the European Union Association Agreement, so we believe that the new president will start this work as soon as possible and we hope he will help us towards stabilisation and normalisation in Ukraine, especially in the eastern regions.”
With more than 600 of the 5,000 Ukrainians living in the UAE expected to vote and 114 polling stations outside Ukraine, Mr Polurez said he hoped that the election would mark the start of a brighter future. “We’re optimistic and we pray for Ukraine.”