U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is among thousands of international observers in Ukraine today to monitor that country's presidential election.
Ukraine's new leader will face the immediate task of stemming the violence and bloodshed that have marred the former Soviet republic for several months. "People around the world have an interest in ensuring that these elections are free and fair," Ayotte told the New Hampshire Sunday News in a phone interview from Kiev on Saturday. Ayotte, R-N.H., arrived in Ukraine on Friday and was scheduled to return home on Monday night.
"It's important that we get the truth out about what's happening here," she said. "The world is here to make sure to assist the Ukrainian people who want nothing more than to have their own say in their future and to have a democratic, free, fair election."
Ayotte is part of a delegation sent by the International Republican Institute that also includes U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and IRI President Mark Green. Other U.S. dignitaries include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, part of a group from the National Democratic Institute, and current and former members of Congress.
On its website, IRI describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization advancing freedom and democracy worldwide. Founded in 1983, the agency says it has monitored elections in 47 countries, including Ukraine. Ayotte is scheduled to visit polling sites in Kiev and speak with election workers, voters and other observers. She was also scheduled to monitor the closing of a polling place and be present at a counting station.
"I've never done this before, so I'm with people that are knowledgeable about this," Ayotte said. "Basically, what we're going to be doing is making sure that people have an unfettered free right to vote and looking to make sure that there's no fraud."
Ayotte said no extra security would be provided for the monitors, but she felt safe. She said the U.S. delegations and those from Canada were following an advisory from the State Department to stay out of the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, where 16 people were killed during an attack on soldiers. Rebel leaders in the two provinces have already declared the vote illegal.
Ayotte said the embattled region includes about 10 percent of Ukraine's voting population. She felt the other parts of the country would be safe, especially with the large international presence at polling stations to provide updates on how the election was going.
"We want to make sure people are getting into the polling place," she said. "Do they have access to the polling place? Are they able to exercise their right to vote in a way that their confidentiality is respected?"The country has been run by an interim government since former President Viktor Yanukovich left office in February and fled to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow will respect the election results, but Ayotte said Putin's credibility has been suspect throughout the five-month ordeal, which included Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula in the Black Sea.
"We have to really look at everything Putin says with skepticism, given what's happened here," she said. "We can't be fooled by this and have to continue to stay focused on putting pressure on Russia so that the people of Ukraine, once they elect their president, they can make sure that they are allowed to choose for themselves what future they want for their country."
. Ayotte will appear on Fox News Sunday live from Ukraine. It will air on Fox News Channel at 9 a.m. and again at 2 p.m.