I've been here for two days preparing for, and actually observing, the Ukrainian parliamentary elections. I was part of the International Observer Mission in that effort.
During the day before I hopped on an airplane from Kiev to come down here we were briefed by various government and political leaders. One person in our group asked whether international observers could remain in a precinct to watch the counting process.
You may have missed this, but the other day the Attorney General of Texas offered the theory that if international observers interfered in the elections in Texas next week they could be arrested
The Ukrainian official answer the question about remaining in the precinct by saying, "Yes. Ukraine is not Texas."
I have no idea how to pronounce this place so I simply refer to it as DP and people seem to understand.
Ukraine was known as the bread basket of the Soviet Union and, according to local lore, dropped the "The" portion of its name when the Soviet Union broke up.
Yesterday, as the elections were going on, there was a muted (OK, largely ignored) celebration to mark the 68th anniversary of the Ukrainians kicking out the German army.
The Russians proved a bit more stubborn and THE Ukraine SSR became Ukraine, independent nation, in August, 1991.
During the heights - or depths - of the Cold War Dnipropetrovsk was a center of rocket and satellite design and construction. We stole 45 minutes from our schedule on Saturday to visit the Dnipropetrovsk Space Museum and were shown around by a marvelous guy whose only name I got was Dr. Vladimir.
Dr. Vladimir was an engineer and designer of rockets and spoke of each item in the exhibit much as Quasimodo spoke of the bells of Notre Dame - lovingly. He doesn't get many visitors and he didn't want us to leave. It was a great part of this experience.
There is a photo of him on the Secret Decoder Ring page. Take a quick peak.
On election day we visited 21 precincts throughout the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast - essentially a state or province of Ukraine - we dutifully took down the number of eligible voters, the number of voters that were expected to show up, and stayed around to get a sense of how that particular precinct was working.
We ended up not far from our hotel, The Grand Hotel, which is very typical of hotels in Eastern Europe that don't have the word Hilton, Hyatt, or Marriott in their titles. They are very evocative of the era of Grand Dukes and too-closely intermarried royalty throughout Europe and Russia: The uniforms are neat, cleaned, and pressed, but there's not much doing inside.
My room was very serviceable, but tiny. I mean tiny. So tiny that the bathroom was actually larger. But, as I was only in it to sleep, it was fine.
There is also a photo of the outside of The Grand Hotel on the Secret Decoder Ring page.
Ukraine is a relatively new democracy whose roots are far deeper in Tsars, Führers, and Communist dictators, than in the American style of democracy we will show off to the world next week.
But the Ukrainians are trying. They appeared - at least in the places we visited - to take this election seriously, and the people with whom we spoke were proud of their gains, however modest they might be.
As to that other election being held next Tuesday - I'll be back on Eastern Time tomorrow; God, Delta, and Hurricane Sandy willing, and we'll start our count-down to the finish then.