Bergen County Record (New Milford, NJ)
Posted on August 8, 2005
By Lewis Krauskopf
Alexandr Melnyk wants to improve turnout at the polls. Sergey Chumak is concerned about rights for disabled voters.
And their fellow Ukrainian, Anastasia Bezverkha, says when it comes to elections and democracy in their country, "We really need some examples."
They are youth leaders who are part of a Ukrainian contingent staying in Bergen County for a weeklong cultural exchange and introduction to American elections and democracy.
All told, 41 Ukrainians are spread throughout the country this week as part of a initiative by Congress to foster understanding between emerging leaders of participating countries and their U.S. counterparts.
"Here, you can learn from somebody else's experience," said Dmytro Avdyeyev, one of the group's facilitators.
The New Jersey group is scheduled to meet with Bergen County election officials, as well as visit the United Nations, a Ukrainian-American youth camp and a Ukrainian-American newspaper. On Sunday, the group toured Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Ukraine captivated the world over the past year with its democratic struggle.
The country, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, inaugurated Viktor Yushchenko as its president earlier this year after previous results for his opponent were overturned amid allegations of fraud and widespread protest. Meanwhile, Yushchenko himself was disfigured by poison.
"I never knew I would come here after so many dramatic events in my country," said Bezverkha, 23, a press secretary for the autonomous republic of Crimea.
The group's visit is part of a program by the Open World Leadership Center, an independent federal agency that was established in 1999. Since that time, more than 8,800 leaders have stayed with American host families.
"Underlying this whole thing is a peace mission," said Maryanne Olsen, the local coordinator for the effort and the founder of the Cross Cultural International Institute. "It's so important for people to come together and see their common humanity."
Reproduced with permission of The Record of Hackensack, NJ.
[Reprinted with Permission]