IHS teacher gets personal, up close look at Ukraine election

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005

Local school teachers Murray and Anne Greenstein watched international history unfold before their very eyes.

For most people, the holiday season will likely evoke memories of family get-togethers and holiday dinners, but for the local couple, December 2004 will be remembered as the month they saw history.

Murray, an Ironton High School history and government teacher, and his wife, Anne, who is a history and government teacher at Cabell-Midland High School in Barboursville, W.Va., were observers for the Ukraine national election between incumbent Viktor Yanukovych and challenger Viktor Yushchenko.

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The Greenstein's son, Alex, is a consular officer with the U.S. Embassy in the Ukraine. Alex Greenstein and his girlfriend, Erin Rupprecht, had acted as observers in the country's previous two elections, one of which had been tainted with charges of fraud.

Greenstein said that while he and his wife were making plans to visit their son over the holidays, Alex Greenstein called with an unusual proposal: He and Rupprecht would be monitoring the elections again and would Mom and Dad help, too?

"I thought it was an opportunity to be with the kids and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Greenstein said. "He (Alex) said 'you realize this will be work,' and it was. But it was a great experience. We had been following the elections since he was there. I felt like we were doing something worthwhile."

They arrived in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 18 and returned Dec. 30 with stories to tell of an education they will not likely ever forget.

To take part, they underwent a day-and-a-half of training to become familiar with Ukraine election laws and what problems existed with previous elections.

The Greensteins volunteered under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is affiliated with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, having been "loaned" by the U.S. Embassy. The OSCE had 1,300 volunteers from 44 countries participate as observers in the election. Assigned to teams that included an interpreter and a driver, these teams visited numerous polling places.

The Greensteins observed elections in Lviv, in the western area of the country.

Election day activities were long - more than 24 hours of observing, listening and waiting for the results.

"We had to observe the operations of the polling places, who was on hand, did they adhere to procedure," Greenstein said.

There were also lengthy questionnaires that had to be filled out, detailing what the observers did and saw.

"The only problem we found is each polling station was supposed to have eight officials for Yanukovych and eight for Yuschenko and in the location where we were, polling station after polling station kept telling us the Yanukovych people did not show. They were supposed to be coming but they never did.

"For the most part people were thrilled we were there, they knew that with international observers, they were more likely to get a freer and fairer election than before."

At the end of the day there were ballots to be counted and then be ferried to the election headquarters.

The first vote on Nov. 21 was annulled by the court after allegations by Yushchenko and his allies that massive fraud had given Yanukovych the victory.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians dressed in the opposition's orange colors flooded the streets of the capital to protest what they called their stolen votes in November. The mass protests became known as the Orange Revolution and culminated in the Supreme Court agreeing with Yushchenko's legal challenges, stripping Yanukovych of his victory and ordering the Dec. 26 revote.

The presidential campaign developed into a tense political tug-of-war between the West and Moscow over Ukraine's future.

The winner Yushchenko is widely expected to work for closer integration of Ukraine with NATO and the European Union. Yanukovych was seen as likely to bring Ukraine closer into Russia's sphere of influence and Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken strongly in support of him.

"For a government teacher, this was a great thing," Greenstein said. "My students had been watching the story (of the Ukraine elections) unfold, and we had talked about it in class, but I had no idea I would have the opportunity to go there. It was extraordinary."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.