Travel Reference
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for democracy.) Five years later many Ukrainians—especially here in the east—looked at
the Orange Revolution as a failed experiment with democracy that delivered nothing. The
miners of Donetsk saw their wages shrink and struggled harder to feed their families.
Now a Russian-speaking candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, was promising to end the ex-
periment for good and make sure miners got good wages. Forget that Yanukovych was
viewed by the West as corrupt and little more than a thug, or that he had been convicted on
robbery and assault charges as a teenager and spent a year and a half in prison. He talked
tough, spoke Russian, and the miners saw him as something familiar, an authority figure
whom they believed they could trust.
“Politicians are all bandits,” the coal miner Roman Fyodorov told me, holding his left
palm on his Maxim so he didn't lose his place. “Yanukovych is just our bandit.”
Several days after I interviewed the coal miners in Donetsk, I followed Viktor Ya-
nukovych on the campaign trail. During my days as NPR White House correspondent I had
the fortune of traveling in the luxury press cabin on Air Force One . Now I was aboard a
sputtering Soviet propeller plane, built in 1969 and apparently not updated since. The seat
cushions on the Yanukovych press charter were threadbare. A piece of metal pushed into
my thigh with every bump and the engines whined from age and overuse. Food and bever-
age service amounted to bottles of cheap vodka, which Sergei and I made good use of as
our plane violently lurched back and forth at twenty thousand feet.
At one stop I interviewed Yanukovych and got my first close-up look at the man who
was about to win an election and lead Ukraine. He was tall and imposing with broad
shoulders that made him appear brutish. More confident than smart, he was someone you'd
expect to see on a soccer pitch or rugby field rather than on a campaign trail. He was just
the right bandit for his people and said what ethnic Russians—who would turn out in large
numbers for him—wanted to hear. “In the last five years, Ukraine has lost so much,” he
told me, speaking Russian. “These have been lost years in the development of Ukraine.”
He was ready to begin a new era. The Orange Revolution was over. And he was about
to take office and fulfill his promise, moving Ukraine further away from democracy.
After boarding our plane to head to the next stop, Sergei and I spoke about the morning
we spent with his father.
“Your dad was a coal miner, too,” I said. “He's clearly struggling. Who is he voting
Sergei took a long pause, then sighed. “Yanukovych.”
I've covered my share of politics back home. I've done scores of interviews with Re-
publicans, Democrats, independents. Sometimes I connect with the point of view I'm hear-
ing, sometimes not. But I try to put that consideration aside. There can be no personal bias
in the business of journalism. Hearing Sergei say that name—Yanokovych—was my first
powerful reminder that I had to remain true to that philosophy in this new chapter of my
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