KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The line for the voting booths, a half-dozen flimsy plywood enclosures draped with blue curtains, stretched down the main hallway of Educational Institution No. 323. It went past the election officers sitting beneath paintings of talking rabbits and blond princesses. It turned the corner into the lobby, with the photographs celebrating school plays and Christmas parties, and then out the door and onto the courtyard steps.
By noon, there were 150 or so people in line. The wait was about an hour.
But to the people in this crowded, middle-class neighborhood on the fringes of Kiev, that hour-long wait was a sign of hope.
“It’s a good sign that the lines are long,” said Yelena Dneprovaya, a former civil servant who hasn’t worked for a year. “This means people are motivated, that people believe in change.”
“I can’t call this (election) a victory, but there’s some good to it,” she continued, sweeping a tuft of her reddish-blond hair behind an ear. “The victory will happen when we are confident in our tomorrow.”
Few people are confident about tomorrow in Ukraine. Particularly in the east, where support for Russia runs deep, many Ukrainians see the interim government as a junta that took power from a democratically elected president, albeit one who had grown deeply unpopular in much of the country. In some eastern cities, pro-Russian militias destroyed voting materials and frightened away election workers, ensuring there would be no election at all in places. Pessimists worry that Ukraine’s many divisions – ethnic, linguistic, cultural – could eventually lead to a Yugoslavia-style civil war.
Even in Kiev, where support was widespread for the winter protests that eventually sent President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing into exile in Russia, talk of hope is always undercut by resignation and cynicism. They’ve seen too many governments drown in corruption and infighting, too many hero politicians who turned out to be ineffectual.
“Look at what is happening now in the east,” said Lena Pushakova, her pink flip-flops flapping on the sidewalk as she made her way to the school to vote, past clusters of concrete apartment towers where paint flakes off in fist-sized blisters.
“But I still have hope in spite of that that something will change,” she said, recalling the protests that she took part in. “I expect the new politicians will remember what happened.”
“This is just the beginning,” she said of the elections. “What do you expect?”
The neighborhood is called Pozniaki. It’s about 10 miles (15 kilometers) or a $5 taxi ride across the Dnipro River from Kiev’s Independence Square, which was home to months of protests calling for closer ties to the European Union and an end to Yanukovych.
In Pozniaki, there are few signs of politics. The inexpensive neighborhood, where a one-bedroom apartment rents for less than $350 a month, is full of young families, and there were times Sunday when it seemed half the women at the polling station were pregnant.
Across the river in Independence Square, graffiti call for democracy, or the ouster of Yanukovych, or show the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin with a Hitler moustache. Here, they offer English lessons, baby massages and taekwondo classes. Someone with a summer camp for children in first through third grade has scrawled their phone number on the sidewalk next to a bus station. There are a couple of political billboards – “Come to the Elections! Don’t Lose Your Country” one urges – but they are vastly outnumbered by banks offering free gifts to the first customers and travel agencies selling cheap beach holidays.
Polling puts billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko far in the lead of the nearly two dozen candidates for president, though unless he captures more than half the votes a runoff election will be held on June 15.
Poroshenko has plenty of support in Pozniaki. People here like the fact that he is already rich, and so perhaps would not be as greedy as his predecessors.
But Henadiy Musyt disagreed, worrying that Poroshenko would put his personal business interests first. He supports Yulia Tymoshenko, the heroine of the 2004 protests and former prime minister who spent 2 1/2 years in prison.
Musyt, who lost his job as a printer three years ago and has been unable to find work since, said he joined in the Kiev protests, though he never really believed they would change much. On Sunday, he was still a confusing mixture of optimism and pessimism.
“I don’t expect any good to come of this,” he said after casting his vote. But he said he had to do something: “I just didn’t want thieves to run the country anymore.”
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