Tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the Ukrainian capital of Kiev yesterday, and Mykhajlo Datsenko felt compelled to do his part in Washington.
Datsenko, 30, a District resident, was one of about 20 protesters who gathered outside the Ukrainian Embassy yesterday afternoon to decry alleged fraud in the former Soviet republic's presidential election. They held signs that read, "We demand true election results!" They donned orange scarves, sweaters and handkerchiefs -- the symbolic color of the opposition candidate who yesterday defiantly declared himself the winner of the disputed election.
Near the Ukrainian Embassy, Larissa Vork, left, Lilia Ostapenko and Volodymya Yakymets protest election results.
(Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
"Know this, guys: We are with you all the way," said Datsenko, as he stood outside the brick embassy in Georgetown holding a sign hastily scrawled in Ukrainian that he said read: "Maidan, we're with you," a reference to the capital's Independence Square, where protesters gathered yesterday in freezing temperatures. "If we can support you in at least this way, we will."
The rally was one of many held yesterday in cities across the United States, Datsenko and other protesters said. A march is planned for noon today starting at the embassy, part of a fast-growing grass-roots campaign by Ukrainian citizens in the United States to condemn election abuses.
Election monitors said there was widespread fraud in Sunday's presidential runoff election between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and reformer Viktor Yushchenko. Election results had shown Moscow-backed Yanukovych beating Western-leaning Yushchenko, despite early predictions of a Yushchenko win.
The State Department has called on Ukraine's government to investigate the fraud allegations. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said in a statement that "election day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities."
Protesters outside the embassy handed copies of Lugar's statement to joggers and shoppers in a climate far warmer than in Kiev but chilly nonetheless, the second day of a vigil that began Monday.
Many protesters were Ukrainian citizens living in the United States, some of whom had come to the embassy Sunday to cast their votes in the election. They organized the protest after a flurry of e-mails following the news of an apparent Yanukovych victory. "If [Yanukovych] won honestly, I would accept him as a president," said lawyer Lilia Ostapenko, 29, who was born in Ukraine and lives in Vienna and who helped organize the rally. "But it just didn't happen."
Retired journalist Bohdan Hodiak of Bethesda, a U.S. citizen of Ukrainian descent, said Yushchenko was the best hope for democracy in Ukraine. "It's very disheartening," he said. "It's like the old regime put on new clothes."