Natalia Dmytruk, a sign-language interpreter in the Ukraine state-run television station, has won an award for the vital part she played in letting the population of the Ukraine know that the presidential elections had been rigged.
During the tense days of Ukraine's presidential elections last year, Dmytruk staged a silent but bold protest, informing deaf Ukrainians that official results from the Nov. 21 runoff were fraudulent. Her act of courage further emboldened protests that grew until a new election was held and the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko , was declared the winner.
Dmytruk and three other Ukrainian women received the Fern Holland Award on Tuesday night at the Vital Voices Global Partnership's fifth annual ceremony honoring women from around the world who have made a difference.
Dmytruk's "courageous actions sparked the public outreach and ultimately new and fair elections on Dec. 26, 2004," said Melanne Verveer , chair of the board of Vital Voices.
Election monitors had reported widespread vote-rigging immediately after the runoff between Yushchenko and the Russian-backed prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych . With Yanukovych leading by a slim margin, the opposition urged Ukrainians to gather in Independence Square in front of the parliament building to protest the results.
Each time Dmytruk went to Independence Square with her 20-year-old son and teenage daughter and saw the thousands of protesters, she felt herself transformed .
"I was impressed by the expression on my children's faces. I was so fired up by other people I observed passionately voicing their discontent," she said in an interview this week. "It was that special spirit and energy of people coming together, uneasily at first, but looking in the same direction."
Dmytruk would then return to work and broadcast the state's version of events.
"I was observing it from both sides, and I had a very negative feeling," she said. "After every broadcast I had to render in sign language, I felt dirty. I wanted to wash my hands."
The opposition had no access to the state-run media, but Dmytruk was in a special position as a television interpreter to get their message out.
On Nov. 25, she walked into her studio for the 11 a.m. broadcast. "I was sure I would tell people the truth that day," she said. "I just felt this was the moment to do it."
Under her long silk sleeve, she had tied an orange ribbon to her wrist, the color of the opposition and a powerful symbol in what would become known as the Orange Revolution. She knew that when she raised her arm, the ribbon would show.
The newscaster was reading the officially scripted text about the results of the election, and Dmytruk was signing along. But then, "I was not listening anymore," she said.
In her own daring protest, she signed: "I am addressing everybody who is deaf in the Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies. . . . And I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you. Maybe you will see me again -- " she concluded, hinting at what fate might await her. She then continued signing the rest of officially scripted news.