Pres­i­dent Poroshenko Vin­nyt­sia strong­hold ap­a­thetic and di­vided be­fore decisive vote

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OK­SANA GRYTSENKO [email protected]

VIN­NYT­SIA, Ukraine — Two cam­paign work­ers for Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko stroll across the cen­tral square in Vin­nyt­sia un­der steady driz­zle.

Some pedes­tri­ans greet them, but none agree to take the cam­paign news­pa­pers they’re hand­ing out. An ac­quain­tance stops to ask one of

the cam­paign work­ers if Poroshenko will win the elec­tion. The cam­paign worker, a man in his 50s, just sighs and shrugs.

But he doesn’t look too sad­dened at the low chances of his can­di­date. He ad­mits that “Poroshenko made a lot of mis­takes,” adding though that Poroshenko’s ri­val, ac­tor and po­lit­i­cal satirist Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, is “just a pup­pet.”

His col­league, a mid­dle-aged woman, is not even sure she will vote for the can­di­date she’s cam­paign­ing for.

“Maybe I will just tear up my bal­lot,” she told the Kyiv Post with­out giv­ing her name, as she said she wasn’t al­lowed to talk to the press.

Vin­nyt­sia, a city of 370,000 peo­ple lo­cated in 240 kilo­me­ters south­west of Kyiv, is fre­quently said to be a Poroshenko strong­hold — he owns two con­fec­tionary plants and a dairy fac­tory here. And it was here that Poroshenko was first elected to par­lia­ment in 1998, and then again in 2012. Both his fa­ther and el­der son were deputies in the oblast coun­cil.

But just days be­fore the April 21 runoff, where Poroshenko will com­pete against Ze­len­skiy, res­i­dents are di­vided, or un­sure who they will vote for.

In the first round, Poroshenko won in Vin­nyt­sia city but was sec­ond af­ter Ze­len­skiy in Vin­nyt­sia Oblast. Ze­len­skiy re­ceived 23 per­cent sup­port in the oblast, while Poroshenko got 22 per­cent.

Poroshenko’s na­tional rat­ing among de­cided voters is now just 25 per­cent, against 72 per­cent for Ze­len­skiy, ac­cord­ing to the re­cent poll by Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy.

Taisa Gaida, head of the Au­toMaidan civic group and the lo­cal co­or­di­na­tor for the Ch­esno anti-cor­rup­tion watch­dog, said both res­i­dents and au­thor­i­ties in Vin­nyt­sia sup­port not Poroshenko, but his loy­al­ist and for­mer pro­tégé, Prime Min­is­ter Volodymyr Groys­man, a na­tive of Vin­nyt­sia and its mayor in 2006–2014.

And just like Groys­man, who has an­nounced that his gov­ern­ment is ready to work with any pres­i­dent, many peo­ple in Vin­nyt­sia ap­pear ready to ac­cept Poroshenko’s de­feat.

“I was told that the City Coun­cil has al­ready bought green felt-tip pens,” Gaida said, re­fer­ring to the green color of Ze­len­skiy’s cam­paign.

Sugar king

On April 16, work­ers were set­ting up a large stage by the front of Piv­denny Buh River in Vin­nyt­sia, pre­par­ing for the grand restart­ing of the Roshen foun­tain, one of Vin­nyt­sia’s land­marks, which had been turned off for the win­ter. It will be started again on April 20, the day be­fore the elec­tion.

Poroshenko paid about $4.6 mil­lion for the foun­tain, which opened in 2011. It stands in front of his con­fec­tionary fac­tory, Roshen.

But many lo­cals don’t know that the foun­tain is now be­ing main­tained us­ing city bud­get funds, said Olga Mali­novska, the CEO of Vlasno Vin­nyt­sia’s news agency and a for­mer ac­tivist of the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion that ousted for­mer Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych and led to Poroshenko’s elec­tion in 2014.

“The res­i­dents of Vin­nyt­sia pay to ad­ver­tise the (Roshen) con­fec­tionary,” she said. And when the level of wa­ter in the river falls, the au­thor­i­ties open the dam to keep the foun­tain work­ing, af­ter which the wa­ter in some lo­cal wells dis­ap­pears, she added.

Back in the 1970–1980s Vin­nyt­sia Oblast was the cen­ter of the sugar in­dus­try in the Soviet Union. Ac­cord­ing to Mali­novska, when Poroshenko pri­va­tized the sta­te­owned con­fec­tionar­ies and sugar plants in Vin­nyt­sia Oblast af­ter the Soviet Union’s col­lapse in the early 1990s, many lo­cals lost their jobs as some plants closed.

Born in the city of Bol­grad in the south of Odesa Oblast, Poroshenko still hasn’t man­aged to be­come a “na­tive” of Vin­nyt­sia re­gard­less of his long con­nec­tions with the city. “He’s not ours,” Mali­novska said. Un­like him, Groys­man was born and brought up in Vin­nyt­sia, and was elected mayor twice. The cur­rent gov­er­nor of Vin­nyt­sia Oblast Va­leriy Koroviy was Groys­man’s deputy when Groys­man was mayor.

In early March, Poroshenko even skipped a visit to Vin­nyt­sia for a meet­ing of the Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil, send­ing Groys­man in­stead. When he even­tu­ally came to the city on his cam­paign tour on March 27, it didn’t go well. The Na­tional Corps na­tion­al­ist group clashed with the po­lice and shouted de­mands that some of his busi­ness al­lies, ac­cused of em­bez­zle­ment in the de­fense sec­tor, be im­pris­oned.

Ear­lier, on Feb. 17 a group of mostly elderly ac­tivists who rally ev­ery Sun­day on the main square turned Poroshenko’s cam­paign tent up­side down and tore up his cam­paign news­pa­pers. Af­ter that, Poroshenko’s tent was re­moved from the square.

Ze­len­skiy’s cam­paign

“The end of the era of greed­i­ness,” reads a Ze­len­skiy cam­paign bill­board — the only po­lit­i­cal bill­board the Kyiv Post saw in the city dur­ing a day there. Near it are sev­eral univer­si­ties and three polling sta­tions where the ma­jor­ity of voters sup­ported Ze­len­skiy in the first round of the elec­tion on March 31.

Svit­lana Dabizha, 28, a barista at a cof­fee shop lo­cated near Ze­len­skiy’s bill­board, said she and most of her co-work­ers and cus­tomers sup­port Ze­len­skiy.

“I used to like Poroshenko, he did a lot for our city. But now I’m ashamed of him,” she said.

Dabizha said it was em­bar­rass­ing for her to see Poroshenko singing and danc­ing at a sta­dium in Kyiv dur­ing his rally on April 14, on the 5th an­niver­sary of the start of Rus­sia’s war in east­ern Ukraine. On that Day, Vin­nyt­sia was com­mem­o­rat­ing lo­cal sol­diers who were killed in the war.

Ze­len­skiy was sup­posed to visit Vin­nyt­sia with his Kvar­tal 95 show on Feb. 14, but the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties banned him from per­form­ing at the Palace of Of­fi­cers, the big­gest lo­cal con­cert hall, al­legedly be­cause it con­sti­tuted po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing on the ter­ri­tory of a mil­i­tary unit, which is against the law. So Ze­len­skiy apol­o­gized to the lo­cals, re­turned the money for tick­ets, and made no more at­tempts to visit the city dur­ing the cam­paign.

Mali­novska said the jour­nal­ists of her me­dia, Vlasno Vin­nyt­sia, failed to find any rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ze­len­skiy’s cam­paign in the city. Nei­ther did they find ev­i­dence that Hry­horiy Kalet­nyk, a for­mer law­maker from Vin­nyt­sia who was in the party of dis­graced ex-Pres­i­dent Yanukovych, was be­hind Ze­len­skiy’s cam­paign in the city — a com­mon be­lief of lo­cal sup­port­ers of Poroshenko.

Leaflets smear­ing Ze­len­skiy were of­ten put in the lo­cals’ mail­boxes dur­ing the cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to Mali­novska and also re­ports by the Opora elec­tion watch­dog.

Cam­paign­ing and vi­o­la­tions

A big in­for­ma­tion board at the cen­tral square in Vin­nyt­sia re­flects the var­i­ous hopes and con­cerns its res­i­dents have.

It has ads about work in Poland, the search for the owner of a re­cently found cat, an­nounce­ment about a rally in sup­port of army vol­un­teers, sev­eral ads against Ze­len­skiy, one ad against Poroshenko and Groys­man, sev­eral ads look­ing to sell and buy apart­ments, a por­trait of the 19th cen­tury poet and na­tional hero Taras Shevchenko, and a dozen of small stick­ers read­ing that Ukraine needs Poroshenko, one of which is cov­er­ing Shevchenko’s mouth.

Apart from the board and the lonely pair of Poroshenko cam­paign work­ers, there’s al­most no vis­i­ble cam­paign­ing in the city.

The Au­toMaidan’s Gaida said that be­fore the first round, the city coun­cil had been send­ing out a plan for the de­vel­op­ment of Vin­nyt­sia on be­half of Poroshenko, which rep­re­sented covert cam­paign­ing for the pres­i­dent.

Dur­ing the first round, she was present at one lo­cal elec­toral of­fice and spot­ted 695 vot­ing ballots for Poroshenko that didn’t have the re­quired stamps and so could be added by fraud­sters look­ing to rig the re­sult. The po­lice are now in­ves­ti­gat­ing this case.

Mali­novska said that af­ter the first round of the elections the oblast gov­er­nor, Va­leriy Koroviy, at an open meet­ing with the press present rep­ri­manded rep­re­sen­ta­tives of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties for Poroshenko’s poor re­sult.

She thinks such meth­ods won’t help.

“Times have changed,” she said. “Peo­ple are dif­fer­ent now. They won’t lis­ten if the vil­lage heads tell them who to vote for.”

(Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

A man walks a dog by the Piv­denny Buh River in Vin­nyt­sia on April 16, 2019, next to the Roshen con­fec­tionery owned by Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko.

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