Gerry Lenoski prepares to board a bus in Ukraine where he was an elections observer for the 2014 presidential election. The former South Surrey resident has travelled twice to Ukraine in that role.

Observers working to protect democracy

Former South Surrey resident travelled to Ukraine for presidential election

When Gerry Lenoski arrived in Ukraine last month, it was a stark contrast to his last visit 10 years earlier.

“There was so much commotion going on in parts of Ukraine and some unfortunate stirrings of violence and Russia-related issues,” the former South Surrey resident said. “Last time, it was quite a different case.”

The longtime civic and public affairs activist – who is also the vice-president of South Surrey-based veterans advocacy group EQUITAS – travelled to the European country on both occasions as an elections observer with the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He was one of 900 people invited for the nine-day Ukrainian mission, which kicked off May 20, and one of approximately 135 Canadians who would observe and record the process of the presidential election in Ukraine, which resulted in Petro Poroshenko taking office from embattled president Viktor Yanukovych.

Upon arrival in Kiev, Lenoski was paired with a Parisian diplomat and embarked on their journey, covering hundreds of kilometres travelling to different oblasts – or provinces – in the southeast portion of Ukraine to visit major polling stations and follow an extensive checklist, which included monitoring gender distribution to ensure there was a proper seal on the ballot box.

Fortunately for monolingual Lenoski, his Parisian partner came in handy while travelling in a portion of the country where Russian is widely spoken.

“Boy, she was a dynamo,” Lenoski laughed. “She spoke French, Russia and English – she rode rings around me.”

The duo travelled to polling stations, with about 100 miles separating them from the turmoil ravaging Donetsk as Russian and Russian-loyal separatists stage a rebellion opposing centralized rule from the Ukrainian capital.

While Lenoski and his partner were a safe distance away from the action, he noted that the observer team intended for that area was pulled back.

“It was calm in many respects, but people were edgy. Certainly, the volunteers were a little anxious,” Lenoski said. “It’s really a humanitarian commitment that people make. Our role is taking the word ‘observer’ and being literal about it.

“If we saw anything that was out of sync with what should be the case in our view, our only recourse was to keep a record of it and to report it.”

But as Lenoski travelled to each oblast, the vast majority of what he observed was Ukrainians coming out in large numbers to cast their ballots – much more than those in his home country.

“Their turnout there seemed to be about 60 per cent plus. It came across to me that they really knew what they were doing. The vast majority of situations were of people who were proud to meet us and show us they knew what they were doing,” Lenoski recalled. “It reminds me of how precious democracy is and how people should participate more (in Canada).”

While he admitted there may be some who would scratch their heads at why Lenoski would travel the distance to a country that is in the midst of a burgeoning civil war, the third-generation Canadian said that aside from his family roots in Europe – including Ukraine – the need to contribute towards democracy in a too-often troubled world is too important to pass up.

“It’s a small world. A powder keg can result from the smallest enmities over borders or over languages. We have to be alert and work towards alleviating those issues. I’m glad to be part of an adventure that speaks to the importance of democracy,” he said.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey man found guilty in West Kelowna killing of common-law spouse

Tejwant Danjou was convicted of second-degree murder in the July 2018 death of Rama Gauravarapu in West Kelowna

New collective debuts with Crescent Beach show

Nela Hallwas and Lyn Verra-Lay team for ‘Flow’

‘Lifting Hands’ mural on White Rock wall celebrates community’s COVID efforts

High school students, grads inviting health-care workers, emergency crews to add handprints

Former students’ mural showcasing Delta elementary school’s new logo on hold, for now

Ashriya and Karam Purewal painted the spirit logo last spring; formal logo mural delayed due to COVID

Refund emails from City of White Rock a ‘phishing’ scam

IT staff work to nullify security breach in ‘classic phishing campaign’

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Watchdog clears Okanagan RCMP in death of man after arrest over alleged stolen pizzas

The man died in hospital after having difficulty breathing and broken ribs

35,000 doses of fentanyl part of huge Maple Ridge bust

Largest seizure in RCMP detachment’s history included submachine gun, body armour

Have you seen Berleen? B.C. pig destined for sanctuary goes missing

Berleen was less than two weeks from travelling to Manitoba when she vanished

Health Canada says several kids hospitalized after eating edible pot products

People warned not to store cannabis products where children can find them

‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

Police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna’s staff

Michigan plans dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles

First study of its kind in the U.S. to figure out whether existing lanes or shoulders could be used

Most Read