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March 10, 2005
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Political Science student travels to Ukraine
Front row seat on history

Tent City in Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine, during December’s elections.

Political Science student Bob Winsor got a front row seat on history when he was selected as one of 467 Canadian observers to go to Ukraine in December 2004.

As a returning officer with Elections Canada for St. John’s South-Mt. Pearl, Mr. Winsor was selected as one of 100 Canadians to be part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) contingent.

Speaking about his first overseas electoral experience, he said, “I learned quickly not to expect perfection. It has only been 14 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is understandable that things are not quite right, but they are working on it and making improvements because they want to make a difference.”

Mr. Winsor’s first introduction to Ukraine was a day of briefings in Kiev. Following that he traveled by train to his assigned district, Dnipropetrovsk, southeast of Kiev. The city now has a population of 2.5 million people, but it was a closed city during the cold war and the heart of the nuclear weapons program.

Working with a lawyer from the European Union, Mr. Winsor worked as part of a team visiting polling stations in the area, the territorial electoral commission office and party campaign headquarters. His job was to make sure the set-up was good, check the voters list, look into problems and check security. Overall the process ran very smoothly.

“The young people are energized and there was a high voter turnout. It is obvious that they want a change and they are politically active – they care and they want to do something about it.”

When asked how it compared to other democratic elections, Mr. Winsor added. “The United States held elections for 125 years, but if you walked into a neighbourhood in Boston in 1901 the level of corruption was unreal at election time. In most democracies there are always going to be problems. The Ukraine will get it right, it just takes time.”

At the end of the day, the election was a success. Thousands protested, lobbied and Ukraine’s Supreme Court over-turned the election naming Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate, as the new prime minister. For Mr. Winsor it was a resounding success.

“Someone suggested to me when I returned to Canada that the whole democratic process was a sham, but I say, ‘wait a second’, they overturned an election without a shot being fired. That sounds very democratic to me,” he said with a smile.

“It was by far the biggest political story of the century, watching a country create a democracy and its future. I encourage anyone who is interested, who has skills and wants to travel, to get involved. It is the opportunity of a lifetime and a life-changing experience, without a doubt.”