Student from AU election observer at Ukrainian presidential election

The unrest in Ukraine has the world's attention. In the midst of the conflict, the organisation SILBA sent some of its members to the restive country as election observers for the presidential elections on 25 May. One of them was AU student Agnethe Sørensen.

[Translate to English:] Foto: Anders Trærup

Most people are happy enough watching the tense situation in Ukraine unfold from a distance on TV. But not Agnethe Sørensen, who is studying International Studies at AU.

"I feel very drawn to the situation in Ukraine right now. I’m interested in international politics because of my subject and the situation in Ukraine is as relevant as it can be. Plus there are many international players and high stakes. Such as, what’s the EU’s position going to be towards Russia? And what role is the UN taking? At the same time I’d like to experience the conflict in real life as the media typically has a certain way of presenting things," she explains on the day before departure to a country gripped by conflict. In a few days she will be acting as an election observer at the presidential elections on 25 May.

Very important assignment

Agnethe Sørensen is a member of the organisation SILBA, which works to ensure democracy and freedom in the Eastern European countries with the help of voluntary election observers, including students. She already knows that this will be a challenge in a country where many people doubt whether it really is possible to hold a legitimate election.

"We have a very important assignment here and as I see it, Ukraine also has an interest in us being there. Because if they manage to hold a free and fair election then we can tell the press about our observations. If, on the other hand, they don’t manage it then it’s also important to get that information out."

Nerves and butterflies

She does not hide the fact that she is leaving for Ukraine with butterflies in her stomach.

"I have followed the situation closely and waited until the last minute to decide whether I should go. If the unrest started again in Kiev then I wouldn’t go. But we won’t be working in Eastern Ukraine, which is where there is most rebellion right now, and I’m confident that SILBA understands the situation."   

Safety is important

SILBA’s chairman in Denmark Sofie Marseen confirms this. She says that the organisation does not compromise on safety even if it’s for a good cause.

"Of course, there are certain areas of Ukraine where there is unrest and where we will not be present. We will not cover places where our members risk being exposed to violence and kidnapping," she says and continues:

"It’s important that our members are equipped for the task. In the days up to the election we’ll be holding presentations and telling them that they must withdraw in situations which become unpleasant, or if there are situations where we are no longer able to vouch for the safety of the observers. We also make sure we always have a financial buffer, so that we can quickly get our members out."

In April, AU student Signe Andersen was sent out by SILBA as an election observer in Macedonia.

The trip gave her an exciting perspective on her daily life as a political science student. You can read about her experiences and see a photo report from the trip:

Translated by Peter Lambourne