Thousands of Ukrainian Americans converged at the Ukrainian embassy and consulates Sunday to vote in their native country’s presidential run-off election, including many making the trip for the third time in the fiercely contested race.
An estimated 5,000 people traveled to the Chicago consulate from across the Midwest, and the line was dotted with orange scarves and hats in support of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who appeared to have a healthy lead over rival Viktor Yanukovych in exit polling.
“We are here to make our vote count,” said Nataliya Baydyuk, who drove from Indianapolis with eight other Ukrainians. “We want to have the right president win.”
In Chicago — one of four U.S. cities along with San Francisco, New York and Washington where Ukrainians could vote Sunday — a steady stream of people also donated money to help the thousands of Yushchenko supporters who flooded the Ukrainian capital of Kiev after Yanukovych was named president in a fraud-marred Nov. 21 runoff.
Those results were annulled by Ukraine’s Supreme Court, which ordered a new election.
The Chicago area has between 50,000 to 100,000 people of Ukrainian descent, and Yushchenko’s wife was born and raised in the city’s suburbs.
Wearing orange in N.Y.
In New York, officials estimated that 8,000 people waited in lines stretching down the block to vote at the consulate. Many also wore orange scarves and ribbons.
“I have a lot of hopes — and a lot of worries. I’d love to see Ukraine free, but I’m worried that it gets closer to Russia,” said Oksana Lada, a native Ukrainian and actress on “The Sopranos,” who joined about 200 people for a rally in the East Village.
Sunday’s election marked the third time since October that some voters had walked through the consulate doors to cast ballots for Ukrainian president. Many, like Natalia Jarowyj of Detroit, said they would come again if necessary.
“It doesn’t matter that we travel so far,” said Jarowyj, who arrived in Chicago aboard one of seven buses of Ukrainians from Detroit. “We will come tomorrow, and the next day and the next day if needed because it’s so important to vote.”