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FIRST-PERSON: The power of one courageous person

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“The power of one man or one woman doing the right thing for the right reason, and at the right time, is the greatest influence in our society,” the late Jack Kemp once said. While the American politician and former pro football player used the qualifying word “our” to refer to America, there is no doubt his observation holds true universally.

I recently stumbled upon one person’s story that epitomizes Kemp’s inspirational maxim. She hails from central Europe and her name is Natalya Dmitruk. Almost five years ago she did the right thing, for the right reason and at the right time. As a result, her native Ukraine was dramatically impacted.

Prior to her courageous action, Ms. Dmitruk was an unlikely catalyst for political change. However, one day in 2004 she made a decision that not only served to embolden many Ukrainians, but altered the political landscape of her country.

Dmitruk was born to deaf-mute parents. As a result, she had to learn sign language in order to communicate with her mother and father. Though she is not hearing impaired, Dmitruk has made it her mission in life to provide the deaf with a vital link to the world.

Seeking to fulfill her mission, Dmitruk became an interpreter for Ukrainian state-run television UT-1. It was this position coupled with her desire to serve the deaf community that set the stage for her dramatic stand.

On Nov. 25, 2004, the runoff for the Ukrainian presidential election had just taken place. There was growing evidence of widespread voter fraud indicating that the election was rigged in favor of the government-sponsored candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, state-controlled broadcasters took to the airways and reported that Yanukovych had defeated opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Hearts across the Ukraine sank. Their hope for change was dealt a bitter defeat.

On that dismal afternoon Dmitruk was given the assignment of interpreting the afternoon news. Everyone in the newsroom was painfully aware that the election had been a sham, but no one was willing to take a stand against the government. And Dmitruk was only an interpreter for the deaf. What could she do?

From a small inset in the corner of a television where she regularly provided the deaf with a vital link to the world, Dmitruk decided she had to do something. Rather than repeat the official government line about the election, she signed to her deaf audience, “Yushchenko is our president. Do not believe the Central Election Commission. They are lying.”

Dmitruk told Time magazine that she feared she would get into terrible trouble. “But,” she said, “the disgust I felt about all that lying forced out the fear.”

An estimated 100,000 deaf people saw Dmitruk’s news cast. Other UT-1 journalists, inspired by her courage, joined Dmitruk and refused to spout the government’s version of the election. Almost immediately, other news channels in the Ukraine followed suit. In a matter of hours, news of the rigged election swept across the nation.

The Ukrainian Supreme Court called for the run-off election to be repeated. Yushchenko won in the revote by garnering 52 percent of the vote. The newly elected Ukrainian president personally invited Dmitruk to translate television coverage of his inauguration.

Even though Yushchenko was later dismissed amid allegations of corruption, Dmitruk believes the Ukraine is better off. She told Time that future elections will be “free and fair.” Commenting on her audacious action, Dmitruk said, “It was all worth it.” Her action led to what is now dubbed the Orange Revolution.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” Theodore Roosevelt said. If America’s 26th president was alive today, I am quite certain he would applaud Natalya’s Dmitruk’s act of courage. And he would also encourage American citizens to take note and follow her example.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs