Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Expressive hands spark a revolution

By Aussiegirl

With an orange ribbon tied to her wrist and her expressive hands, a brave Ukrainian woman helped to spark the Orange Revolution. History is replete with such seemingly small, individual acts of heroism and bravery. She could very easily have faced at minimum, dismissal from her job for her actions. Instead she changed history and was honored recently in Washington.

Nora Boustany, writing in the April 29 edition of the Washington Post, tells us about the brave Ukrainian woman who may have sparked the Orange Revolution with her act of defiance.

Natalia Dmytruk did not have to learn sign language at school. Her first words had to be mimed. Both her parents are deaf.

The baby was crying. Big sister Natalia, then a 20-month-old toddler, alerted their mother by cradling an imaginary baby in her arms and tracing invisible tears down her cheeks. These were Natalia's first words, her mother would later tell her.

Dmytruk, 48, made sign language her vocation and today interprets for Ukraine's state-run television. Her face and hands appear in a little box at the bottom of the screen as she sends out the news on the mid-morning and early afternoon telecasts to the hearing-impaired.

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.

"My legs became so heavy. I was terribly scared," she said.

Dmytruk's live silent signal helped spread the news, and more people began spilling into the streets to contest the vote. She returned to work to give the 3 p.m. news, but was not admonished by her superiors. When she finished, she went into the technicians' studio and told them what she had done. They hugged her all at once. "You are terrific, Natalia," she said they told her.

She showed up for work the next day, and still her manager did not utter a word about what she had done.

Slowly, she became confident that she had won. A rerun of the runoff was scheduled for December, and this time, Yushchenko was declared the winner.

In the days that she has been in the United States, Dmytruk said her inability to speak English has left her feeling isolated. "I know now what it must feel like to be deaf," she said. "When Ukrainian Americans addressed me in my own language, it was like someone had poured me fresh water."


At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Pindar said...

Such a brave woman, deciding to risk so much to tell the truth! After all, only a few years previously a journalist had literally lost his head by trying to tell the truth, and if Yushchenko had wound up losing, her head would probably have been next.


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