News / Europe

    Eastern Ukraine Separatists Proceed With Vote

    Donetsk Prepares Secession Vote Amid Fears of Violencei
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    Patrick Wells
    May 10, 2014 11:13 PM
    In eastern Ukraine, organizers of a referendum seeking "independence" from the central government in Kyiv say the vote will go ahead Sunday despite an attack by government forces in the city of Mariupol that left as many as 20 people dead Friday. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Donetsk, the largest city in eastern Ukraine.
    VIDEO: In eastern Ukraine, organizers of a referendum seeking independence from the central government in Kyiv say the vote will go ahead Sunday despite an attack by government forces in the city of Mariupol that left as many as 20 people dead Friday. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Donetsk.
    Patrick Wells
    Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say two hastily-organized secession referendums will take place as planned Sunday, despite warnings from Kyiv that the self-rule votes could spell disaster for the Russian-speaking region.

    On Saturday, organizers in Donetsk and Luhansk continued preparations, distributing leaflets and posters urging people to vote. Those planning the referendum say Friday's attack by government forces that killed as many as 20 people in the port city of Mariupol will not disrupt the vote.

    “We will not let an attack happen. We are not afraid of anyone, this is our Donbass [the region surrounding Donetsk] and we will oppose anyone who comes here," said separatist fighter Igor Banderenko. "We will free this area and then we will go to Slovyansk, Mariupol, Luhansk and release them as well.”

    Luhansk's separatist leader, Valery Bolotov, told Russia's Interfax news service he expects a 90 percent voter turnout for Sunday's ballot, which seek approval for so-called sovereign people's republics in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, the largest city in eastern Ukraine. The vote — organized on an ad hoc basis with no clear controls over ballot papers or voter lists — has been widely criticized by Kyiv and Western capitals.

    Separatist leaders say residents of Donetsk and Luhansk are demanding the immediate opportunity to vote on the region's future, despite questions about the legality of the ballots and recent polling showing 70 percent of locals oppose secession.

    Addressing international media at a recently assembled electoral commission headquarters, Roman Lyagin displayed a black and white referendum ballot that asks if the voter supports declaration "of self-rule by the Donetsk People's Republic.” It had no special markings to prevent duplication, leaving opening the possibility of massive electoral fraud.

    “I might get 15 years in prison for doing this," Lyagin said, explaining that his social beliefs led him to organize the poll and head the electoral commission. "All that I care about here is making peace on my own land. My child lives here. I don't want bloodshed here. How else can I guarantee the legitimacy? I don't know."

    Separatist forces claim the referendum is the only hope of keeping the conflict from spiraling out of control. But with doubts about the validity of the ballot, some have expressed concern that it may have exactly the opposite effect.

    Story continues below photo gallery:
    • People watch as a seized armored vehicle that was set on fire smolders in the center of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, May 10, 2014.
    • People react as they stand in front of a burning barricade near the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, May 10, 2014.
    • People walk through a square as black smoke billows from burning tires to prevent government armored personnel carriers from passing through the center of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, May 10, 2014.
    • Election commission worker Vera Pozhidaeva demonstrates the readiness of a polling station for Sunday's referendum in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk, May 10, 2014.
    • Ballot boxes bearing the flag of Donetsk People's Republic are seen at a polling station, in preparation for the upcoming referendum in Donetsk, Ukraine, May 10, 2014.
    • Election commission workers count ballots at a polling station ahead of Sunday's referendum in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, May 10, 2014.
    • A WWII Soviet flag replica and a portrait of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin fly above crowds gathered for a religious service in memory of the victims of the trade union building blaze in Odessa, Ukraine, May 10, 2014.
    • Local residents gather for an Orthodox ceremony to mourn the deaths of pro-Russian supporters killed recently in the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine, May 10, 2014.
    On Saturday, interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov warned secession supporters that independence would be "a step into the abyss for these regions." He also appealed to rebels to join talks on greater autonomy in the east.

    Also on Saturday, rebel activists in Donetsk released seven Red Cross workers they had detained late Friday. The separatists had indicated earlier they believed the Red Cross team was engaged in espionage.

    Warning for Moscow

    Western leaders blame Moscow for encouraging the separatist movement, and Saturday German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said they would back new economic sanctions against Moscow if the ongoing unrest threatens Ukraine's May 25 presidential election. During a joint press conference Saturday in Germany's Baltic port of Stralsund, the two leaders also called the referendum illegitimate.

    Meanwhile, reporters in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol say Ukrainian security forces have withdrawn to the outskirts of the city, less than a day after attacking a police facility occupied by separatists.

    Witnesses say Friday's fighting, described as one of the bloodiest military operations of the secession crisis, left at least seven people dead. Television footage later showed the police headquarters reduced to smoldering rubble.

    The French news agency on Saturday described the center of the city of nearly 500,000 residents as "a post-apocalyptic wasteland," with young men building makeshift barricades around charred buildings.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged organizers to delay Sunday's vote; but that recommendation appears to have been rejected, leaving it unclear how or if Moscow will respond should secessionists prevail.

    The United States, which does not recognize the annexation, condemned Putin's visit, which Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called a "provocation."

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    by: Wiktor Protsenko from: Kyiv
    May 12, 2014 8:28 AM
    In its unannounced war against Ukraine, Russia relies on covert operations which fall squarely within the definition of "international terrorism" under 18 U.S.C. § 2331.
    Specifically, armed operatives of Russia, acting under disguise, attempt to influence the policy of Ukrainian government by intimidation or coercion. They also try to affect the conduct of a government by assassinations and kidnapping, taking by force government buildings, police posts and military bases of Ukraine.
    This activity is being conducted on large scale and over prolonged time period, despite condemnation by the USA, G-7, NATO, EU and UN.
    Please sign the petition urging the White House to officially designate Russia as "State sponsor of terrorism” - http://wh.gov/lwuL9
    Such status of country would outlaw business of American companies with Russia. Even considering of the petition by Senate and President of USA creating great inconvenience Russian authorities.

    by: Irene from: Moscow
    May 11, 2014 4:53 AM
    So..what`s bad in federalization? Russia is federation, Germany is federation...I think only federalization can help to Ukraine, because in this case the resources will be evenly distributed across the country and not only concentraited in Kiev.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    May 11, 2014 12:29 AM
    TRUTH BE TOLD... It's only up to the citizens of the pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, (to make their own decisions on if they want to become an independent state), or remain subjects of Ukraine? -- Since Ukraine doesn't have a legitimate democratic government now...
    NOBODY has the right to refuse them their right to vote, either for or against seceding from Ukraine -- (BECAUSE?) -- they are the citizens living there, -- (AND?) -- without a legitimate Ukraine President or government, they are free to vote anyway they want.... REALLY

    by: gen from: Japan
    May 10, 2014 10:26 PM
    US sentor's committee should investigate who had ignited protesters in Kiev,before shouting sanctions on Russia and causing annoy Europe.

    by: gen from: Japan
    May 10, 2014 8:49 PM
    Russian are angry like this "American set fire on my neighbour's house.then uncontrollable.Then american began to blame it on the neighbour(Russia) living next to the house on which he set fire.Moreover,to forced to make me admit,american shouts sanction,sanction,sanction.What did he say?".

    by: Whatever from: Moscow
    May 10, 2014 8:15 PM
    These Ukrainian Nazis are the bad guys, they're ones that put out the bogus fliers requiring Jews to register and framing the Pro-Russians by blaming them for the fliers.

    See the real face of these Ukrainians.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfN0KNIq-rw

    by: gen from: Japan
    May 10, 2014 8:14 PM
    Pro russian are angry with right sectors killing unarmed protesters in maiden square of kiev. Pro russian are angry with the government in kiev which are composed of such sector's top.So they don't want to be controled by kiev.
    Actually Ukraine kiev's army killed unarmed pro russian protester who just marched with no arm and normal wear.

    by: Koty Dryburp from: Germany
    May 10, 2014 7:58 PM
    In the United States, presidential candidates flip-flop, kiss babies for photo ops, and stick pretty close to the establishment script.

    In Ukraine it is a different story. Presidential candidates there dress up in black paramilitary uniforms and interrogate separatist leaders stripped down to their undies. Photos are taken and posted on Twitter for adoring fans back in Kyiv.

    The man stripped down is Igor Khakimzyanov, commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic Army. The man in the fashionable blackshirt uniform is Verkhovna Rada member Oleh Lyashko. He is known for advocating the execution of Ukrainians in Crimea who voted to secede from the country after a coup government rife with fascists took over with the blessing of the U.S. State Department.

    No word on Khakimzyanov’s fate or if Lyashko and his comrades had help rounding up with opposition now that the CIA and FBI are running the effort to eliminate the opposition.

    by: gen from: Japan
    May 10, 2014 7:52 PM
    Unarmed pro russian protesters stil were killed by Ukraine army.Why US and EU demand the government in kiev stop such a operation?
    Why US donate taxpayer's money to killing fields? Why US put a sanction on the government? They use west and US supports for killing human.

    by: Jojo from: Mexico
    May 10, 2014 4:07 PM
    When die "the land of the free" start objecting to self-determination? How many Americans really know how far away the Ukraine is? And how would Americans feel--should Mexico and Guatemala get into an argument--if Russia were to intervene?
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