Holding an election amid threats of invasion and sabotage by fifth-column separatists is the most severe test a democracy can endure. But as President Abraham Lincoln said, facing re-election in 1864 while America’s Civil War still raged, “We cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone, a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”
Like Lincoln, we Ukrainians are resolved to go to the polls to choose a new president, in defiance of every threat. We will not grant victory to those who would discredit and dismember our country by allowing the May 25 vote to be canceled. Our election must go ahead if only to prove that the 100 and more men and women who died for our liberty in the protests around Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, did not die in vain.
We will brave every obstacle to vote, for we are determined to confound President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to transform our democratic country into a Russian vassal state.
No one should doubt that Mr. Putin’s primary aim is to hollow out our democracy. But Americans, and free people everywhere, must not be deceived by Russia’s aggression, or by Mr. Putin’s current peace offensive.
The separatist cause fomented by Russia would never win on its merits in any free and fair vote of Ukrainians, as a recent Pew Research Center poll has confirmed. Russia’s separatist mafia can win only sham elections of the type that Mr. Putin has imposed on Russia since he came to power 14 years ago, and which he recently forced upon our fellow citizens, now hostages, in Crimea.
The lie Mr. Putin is peddling is that Slavs constitute a special culture that requires the rule of a strong man, and that European and democratic ideals, and the tolerance of minorities that comes with them, are antipathetic to that culture. The best possible rebuke to that falsehood is a successful Ukrainian democracy linked to Europe.
Ukraine’s liberty is a mortal threat to the authoritarian, state-capitalist system that Mr. Putin has unleashed on Russia’s citizens. If Ukrainians, who are also Slavs, can build an open society and a free economy, as we are determined to do, then ordinary Russians may recognize the scale of the liberties and the economic opportunities that have been stolen from them under Mr. Putin’s misrule.
Of course, Ukrainians’ trust in their government has been shattered by the growing realization of former President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s corruption, and of his stealthy collaboration with Russia in undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty. But our trust in one another has never been higher.
The spirit of resistance has kindled a new national consciousness across the country, east and west, north and south. It is this spirit, not one of vengeance, that we must keep alive in the days ahead.
If we do, Ukrainians will secure the democracy and the European future to which they have shown such extraordinary devotion. We can eliminate corruption and cut down the bureaucratic maze that stifles the entrepreneurial spirit of our people. We can embrace a modern educational system, not the hidebound Soviet-style ways that still prevail in too many of our classrooms.
We know that we must man the barricades of freedom ourselves if Ukraine is to remain free. But there is much that America and Europe can do to help, short of sending soldiers to fight. As Winston Churchill wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt during the darkest months of World War II, when Britain stood alone against Nazism: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” The consequences of allowing Ukraine to be plundered and divided in the name of Mr. Putin’s imperial ambitions are too dire to contemplate.
Ukrainians have battled for freedom, and now we are poised to risk everything we hold dear in order to vote for it. Give us the support, material and moral, that we need so that we can achieve the just and open democracy that is America’s greatest bequest to the world.
Yulia Timoshenko, a former prime minister, is a candidate in this month’s presidential election in Ukraine.