Rich Galen

I was in Ukraine over the weekend as part of the Official Observer mission courtesy of the International Republican Institute.

My two-person team was assigned to Kharkiv which is the province just north of the two provinces that have been under siege by the separatists. It is adjacent to the Russian border. The city is about 25 miles from the border.

Like Sarah Palin's porch, we could see Russia from the rooftop bar of our hotel.

There was no violence - at least none that we saw - in Kharkiv, but there was plenty of tension. Our hotel was right on the main square. When we got there on Saturday, the road blocks were about a block away.

On Sunday, election day, another set of checkpoints were set up a further block away creating a no-go zone of, maybe, a half square mile given the size of the plaza.

We got to about 10 or 11 voting locations. At most of them we saw at least one person who was modestly out of place. Hair a little too short. In a little too good physical condition. Standing a little to straight.

We determined that the Ukraine security services might have put at least one person at each polling place in Kharkiv province with instructions to call out the militia if anyone started trouble.

The poll workers were well-trained to the point that by actual measurement it took only between 30 and 45 seconds for someone to hand over their PICTURE ID, be checked against the poll list, sign the voting ledger, and be handed their long paper ballot (there were 21 candidates for President) so they could go into a voting booth and mark their choice.

As to the voters, we saw people who appeared to be happy to be voting. Many moms brought their kids and, like moms and kids everywhere, they let the children push the paper ballot into the clear plastic ballot box.

When my travel partner, Chris Holzen the former Ukraine country manager for the IRI, saw that for the first time, he turned to me and said, "We win."

This election had been needed because about six months ago the previous president, Viktor Yanukovych had veered from an expected economic deal with the European Union to making a deal with Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Yanukovych is from the eastern provinces, and the population of rest of the country, actively anti-Russian were horrified that he would sell them out.

That led to the street riots in the capitol of Kiev, leading to armed conflict, ending with Yanukovitch taking a powder into Russia.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at