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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

He Was Born Skvortsov, on the Rolls He's Shpak

Itar-TassSome 10,000 people rallying Sunday in Simferopol in support of a referendum to make Russian an official language.
CHERNOVTSY, Ukraine -- Thousands of Ukrainians with Russian last names may not recognize their names on voters' rolls when they try to vote in parliamentary elections Sunday.

Their names have been translated into Ukrainian.

Central Elections Commission officials are urging regional officials to recheck the rolls, and lawmakers have taken steps to allow voters to challenge the spelling of their names in court. But opposition politicians are warning that many voters in the country's east and south could end up disenfranchised.

Taras Chernovil, the deputy campaign chief of the pro-Moscow Party of the Regions and a leading candidate, accused local election officials of intentionally making mistakes while translating voters' Russian names into Ukrainian.

Chernovil, a current lawmaker and No. 4 candidate on the Party of the Regions list, said mistakes had included changing Medvedev to Vedmidev and Skvortsov to Shpak. Skvorets and shpak mean "starling" in their respective languages.

The translations will make it impossible for people to vote because the names in their passports will not correspond with the ones on voters' rolls, he said in a recent interview while campaigning in Chernovtsy, in western Ukraine.

He said local election officials were following orders from the Central Elections Commission in Kiev.

Commission officials could not be reached for comment. But Tatyana Makridi, a spokeswoman for the ruling bloc, Our Ukraine, said regional and local administrations in the eastern and southern regions were responsible for the voters' rolls and any mistakes on them. "These are authorities who were elected under the previous regime before the 2004 [presidential] election," Makridi said.

She refused to comment on why it was necessary to translate Russian voters' names into Ukrainian, saying it was a question for the Central Elections Commission.

Critics say the effort to translate the rolls into Ukrainian is part of a so-called Ukrainization campaign aimed at strengthening national identity. The drive took off in earnest after President Viktor Yushchenko's Western-leaning team came to power in 2004 during the Orange Revolution. It has encountered fierce resistance in the eastern and southern regions, where most people speak Russian.

As part of the drive, parliament last year passed legislation that ordered television stations to run Russian-language shows and movies in Ukrainian. Russian-language schools have been closed, prompting a wave of protests last summer and fall in the Crimean Peninsula. Party of the Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych addressed a pro-Russian language rally of about 10,000 supporters in the Crimean city of Simferopol on Sunday.

Vasily Stoyakin, director of the Center for Political Marketing in Kiev, said translations of voters' rolls and the obligatory translation of Russian programs on television shows that the Ukrainization campaign has gotten out of hand. "This is a foolish campaign that can be characterized as one of Yushchenko's failures," Stoyakin said.

But Igor Popov, head of the Ukrainian Voters' Committee, a nongovernmental group, suggested that the translation mistakes on the rolls had nothing to do with the campaign. "This is an issue of the elections being poorly organized. These are not translations by people. The names were translated by a computer program," Popov said, adding that blocks of names had also fallen out of the rolls due to a failure by the computer program.

He estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of all rolls were either incomplete or contained mistakes. "I personally had to go verify and correct my wife's name three times," he said.

Election officials have acknowledged problems with the rolls but insisted that they were working to correct them.

Yaroslav Davydovich, head of the Central Elections Commission, urged local officials earlier this month to check the rolls without waiting for voters to complain. "It is their responsibility," Davydovich said, Ukrainian news agencies reported.

Yushchenko has called on voters to check their names on voters' rolls in advance.

Also this month, the parliament approved amendments to the federal election law that will give voters the right to appeal mistakes made in their names in court up to three hours before polling stations close on election day.

Chernovil was skeptical that the legislation would help people vote on Sunday. "In this situation, courts won't be able to handle all the complaints," he said.

He also complained about entire apartment blocks and streets being excluded from voters' lists.

His Party of the Regions is expected to lead Sunday's elections with at least 27 percent of the vote, according to the latest poll released by Razumkov Center, a polling agency. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine is expected to place second, with 17 percent, while a bloc led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is expected to receive 13 percent.

However, it appears that the Party of the Regions will need need a coalition ally to form a majority in the new parliament, which under a 2004 constitutional reform will receive unprecedented powers, including the right to name the prime minister and most of the Cabinet.