New Citizen Votes in First Free Election
As a citizen of the Soviet Union, Ilya Starodubsky always knew whom he would vote for -- the candidate he was told to vote for.
On Tuesday, for the first time, the 93-year-old Starodubsky, a World War II hero decorated by both the Soviet Union and the United States, voted for the candidate of his choice.
Thursday, he talked about his experience, with his daughter Ilana Stewart translating.
"It's indescribable," Starodubsky said of the opportunity to vote. "Living in the Soviet Union, I never had the choice of who to vote for. If I didn't want to vote, they (militia) came and got me and made me vote."
Starodubsky said he was very happy, not nervous, as he prepared to fill out his ballot.
"It was an incredible experience," said Stewart, who accompanied her father on Tuesday. She even took pictures to commemorate the event.
Stewart said her father, who has lived in the United States for nearly 20 years, had always felt left out during elections, because he couldn't vote. Now, he has an altogether different feeling -- pride.
"I am happy to live long enough to make a difference with my vote," Starodubsky said.
When asked if choosing a candidate was difficult, he responded quickly with, "No."
"Going into my 94th year, my own heart and feelings told me who to vote for," he said.
When asked who he voted for, he sat a bit taller in his chair and said, "Senator Obama."
"I chose Obama because he represents what we can do for the children, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren," Starodubsky said.
Stewart says her father and mother, Manya, who voted in her second election in the United States, are avid fans of politics. The couple keep current with all the political information through Russian television and through American newspaper articles, which Stewart translates for them.
"He loves politics," Stewart said. "We always discuss every issue that comes up."
It was a long road to the voting booth for the man affectionately know as Deda (Grandpapa).
He and his wife came to the United States in 1990. They applied for citizenship seven years later while the family lived in Miami. Soon after applying, the Starodubskys moved to Pinehurst along with Ilana, her husband, Tom and their son Bryan.
A year after moving, Manya got her citizenship. Ilya did not. His paperwork, which was supposed to be transferred to the Charlotte INS office, was lost.
Jim Dodson, The Pilot's writer-in-residence, wrote about Starodubsky in September 2006 in an article titled, "Ilya: A Hero Without a Country." Shortly thereafter, The Pilot Editor Steve Bouser gave U.S. Congressman Howard Coble a copy of the story and asked him to see what he could do. Three months later, Starodubsky became a citizen, passing his test on American history with a perfect score.
In a subsequent interview with The Pilot, Starodubsky called the day he became a U.S. citizen the "most important day of my life." He continued, "I lived in despair for so long that I would never have it."
When asked if voting for the first time in America surpasses becoming a U.S. citizen, Starodubsky replied, "It is absolutely another important moment. It is an incredible feeling to go in on my own free will and vote for who I want."
As for any last-minute thoughts before he cast his vote. "I hoped for my candidate to win," he said.
Now Starodubsky, who will be 94 in August, said he hopes he lives long enough to cast another vote for his candidate in November. If Obama does not win the Democratic nomination, Starodubsky said he will vote Democrat.
"I am a Democrat," Starodubsky said. "It will be hard (if Obama is not in the race), but any Democratic nominee will be better than what we have."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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