Presidential election just the start of Ukraine's battle

Ukrainians in Winnipeg are cheering the election of Petro Poroshenko as president in Ukraine, but say he faces big challenges.

Manitoba's James Bezan praises voters for turning out in big numbers

A woman casts her ballot during voting in a presidential election at polling station in the village of Kosmach in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of western Ukraine May 25, 2014. Ukrainian polling stations opened on Sunday in a presidential election overshadowed by violence in the country's mainly Russian-speaking east and by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Ukrainians in Winnipeg are cheering the election of Petro Poroshenko as president in Ukraine, but say he faces big challenges.

"People now want to make sure that there's a non-corrupt national government that is going to do positive things because that was the basis for the revolution that started this whole thing," said John Petryshyn.

His wife, Oksana Bondarchuk, is with the local chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and was in Ukraine on Sunday as an official election observer.

Petryshyn said that despite some intimidation in the east, it appears Poroshenko — a billionaire candy-maker — has a solid mandate to govern. But the election was just the beginning of the fight Poroshenko now faces, he said.

"It's a start, the election, but … now his problem is going to be to form a government that's really going to roll up its sleeves and do some major legislation to change the reasons for the revolution to begin with," said Petryshyn.

Manitoba Conservative James Bezan, another member of Canada's 350-member election observation team, said the election went smoothly and largely peacefully.

"We look forward to working with the future president of Ukraine to help them achieve the dreams and aspirations of the people of Ukraine," Bezan said.

He describes Ukrainians as resilient and brave, adding they turned out in substantial numbers across the country to cast their ballots.

The MP for Selkirk-Interake says the turnout was strong even in areas of eastern Ukraine where heavily armed pro-Russian rebels attempted to stop people from voting.

Those agitators smashed ballot boxes, shut down polling stations and threatened would-be voters.

Bezan says election observers knew there were going to be difficulties in those areas.

So officials made arrangements to allow Ukrainians living in those regions to cast their ballots at more secure polling stations.

He says the mood this weekend in Kharkiv, where he was serving as an election observer, was calm and peaceful, including during a pro-Russian rally which ended without incident. The city is located just 30 kilometres from the Russian border.

The West is hoping the vote might resolve the crisis in the eastern European nation following Russia's annexation of Crimea in March.

Bezan is reiterating the Conservative government's call for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine.

He adds Ukrainians are "extremely thankful" for Canada's strong position against Russia and "the resolve that we've had in addressing those that are responsible for the violence the corruption and the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian territory."