I want to thank The Post for the Sept. 17 editorial "More Straight Talk" about the critical events that will take place next month in Ukraine and Belarus.

In Ukraine, the Oct. 31 election will show if the former communists who are desperately trying to hold on to power will prevail. If they do, we can expect to see a "union" of Ukraine with Russia within a few years, a process that is well on its way now in Belarus.

This would not be good for the Western democracies, and it would be a disaster for the people of the former Soviet republics.

Consider what Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko, the leading opponent of the ruling communists, has gone through in his campaign for president.

He has not appeared on Ukrainian television because that is controlled by the government and the oligarchs. Even the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty has been silenced in Ukraine this year. In recent years most of the independent Ukrainian newspapers have been bought by the oligarchs. So Mr. Yushchenko must travel from city to city and village to village to speak to people face to face, which opens him to danger from hired thugs.

Even so, polls show that he is the overwhelming favorite to win. But the election may still be stolen by fraud and other criminal activities, some examples of which were described in May to a House subcommittee. As was also pointed out during that hearing, sending distinguished U.S. officials to Ukraine to ask the former communists and oligarchs to please hold fair elections will not work.

But if the former communists and oligarchs can be convinced that rigged elections will get them blacklisted for visas to Western democracies and that it won't be so easy to deposit money into private bank accounts outside Ukraine, that could have a real effect.

The United States, with the cooperation of other democracies, can do a great deal for Ukraine. It's not only the moral thing to do; it is in our self-interest.

BOHDAN HODIAK

Bethesda