Volodymyr Paslavskyi left Ukraine 10 years ago to come to Canada, but he has close ties, with his mother and brother still living there.
He is among an estimated 3,000 Ukrainian passport holders in the GTA eligible to vote in this weekend’s crucial elections in the homeland.
“I want to use my vote to elect a president that’s for the people, that’s not going to sell out,” he said.
He is a member of the local EuroMaidan committee, supporters of the popular uprising that toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February. Yanukovych’s ouster led to a calamitous series of events in Ukraine: Crimea, largely Russian-speaking, voted to separate in a referendum that was widely denounced by the international community and immediately embraced by Russia while eastern Ukraine has been disrupted by separatists, suspected of being supported by the Kremlin.
Sunday’s presidential elections are seen as key to demonstrating that democracy is functioning, even if the separatists are unlikely to be convinced. Twenty-one candidates are on the ballot. Polls indicate billionaire businessman Petro Poroshenko is far ahead, while former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko a distant second.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told a conference in St. Petersburg: “We will respect the choice of the Ukrainian people.”
But earlier he described the unrest in the east as equivalent to a “full-scale civil war.” His troops remain stationed at the border.
Hundreds of international observers are in Ukraine for the vote, with the Canadian team led by former Ontario Premier Mike Harris.
Pro-Russian separatists threaten to disrupt the process in eastern Ukraine. A spokesman for the observer team told the Associated Press that up to 20 per cent of polling stations may not be able to operate properly.
“There will be problems during the campaign that is finishing today and there will be problems as far as voting are concerned the day after tomorrow,” said Joao Soares, coordinator of the observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In Toronto, the EuroMaidan committee is offering transportation assistance to get to the polling station at the Ukrainian consulate.
But Paslavskyi believes voters do not need much motivation to participate.
“This election is very important,” he said.
“We need to elect a strong government that will be able to defend its people, as well as deliver for the people.”