Ukraine's recent local elections showed that voters want to see continued progress in the areas of legal reform and the fight against corruption, the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv said this week.
Sunday's elections "showed the resiliency of Ukrainian democracy in the face of difficult economic conditions and Russian aggression," U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said Friday in remarks to the second U.S.-Ukraine Business Council and Kyiv School of Economics Conference on Legal and Governance Reform, held in Ukraine's capital.
The estimated 46 percent turnout, Pyatt added, "was in line with previous local Ukrainian elections, and significantly higher than U.S. local election participation."
Sunday's vote had mixed results. Solidarity, the ruling bloc of President Petro Poroshenko, lost mayoral and council seats in the key cities of Kharkiv and Odessa, but gained seats in a majority of regional councils. The Opposition Bloc, consisting of former allies of ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, gained some seats in southern and eastern Ukraine.
International monitors said the elections were democratic, free and fair, despite localized violations and irregularities, and concerns about the continued influence of oligarchs on politics. Still, voting was canceled in several parts of eastern Ukraine, including the southeastern port city of Mariupol, located near the line separating Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels.
"We urge Ukrainian authorities to hold postponed elections in Mariupol and other locations as soon as possible," Pyatt said during Friday's conference in Kyiv. "We appreciate that President Poroshenko has pressed for them to occur on November 15, alongside the second-round of mayoral elections."
In an interview earlier this week with VOA's Ukrainian service, Pyatt said that while it was difficult to find "general messages" in each of the various local races held Sunday, the elections overall delivered "a very clear message from Ukrainian voters that they want to see the process of reform continue and hopefully accelerate.”
The U.S. ambassador said that among the areas in greatest need of progress are judicial reform, prosecutorial reform and anti-corruption.
"According to a recent poll, only five percent of Ukrainians approve of the job judges are doing," he told Friday's conference. "Five percent! For the majority, the courts exist not to defend them, but to protect the financial and political interests of corrupt and powerful special interests."
Still, Pyatt said there are Ukrainian officials who are committed to reform.
"There are some very courageous people inside the Prosecutor General’s Office who are working to change the system," he told VOA. "It’s not about changing one individual. It’s about creating an expectation that if you are a government official involved in stealing resources from the Ukrainian people – that’s what most of this corruption is, it’s stealing from the people of Ukraine – that you will be held accountable. “