News / Europe

Vote for Sovereignty in Eastern Ukraine Brings Voter Fraud Concerns

Voting in central Donetsk, Ukraine, May 11, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
Voting in central Donetsk, Ukraine, May 11, 2014. (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
Eastern Ukrainians began voting early Sunday in a referendum on secession, but claims quickly mounted of multiple voting.

Pro-unity activists posted a video showing how easy it was to vote more than once.

The head of the separatists’ election commission, Roman Lyagin, told VOA multiple voting was impossible because people had to queue for about a half-hour to vote - therefore no other precautions were necessary.

Additional details of the election process, provided by Lyagin, could be cause to question the integrity of the vote.

Lyagin told VOA that the separatists have been working off a 2012 electoral database, but it is incomplete and they have been adding names. He also said that anyone who turns up at a polling station and is not on the list is allowed to vote.

Ballot papers in the referendum were also printed without security provisions, voter registration was patchy and there was confusion over what the vote was for.

Analysts said the referendum does not meet international standards and is open to fraud.

What the vote means

Voters in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, about 15 percent of the Ukrainian population, cast ballots on whether they approved of independence. But it was unclear whether that meant more autonomy within Ukraine, creation of an independent state or possibly an attempt by the Russian-speaking regions to join Russia.

Most voters said they were voting for a break from Ukraine because of the recent military campaign by Kyiv against Pro-Russian separatists. Other voters cited an expectation for a better life if their region is annexed by Russia.

In Mariupol, scene of fierce fighting last week, there were only eight polling centers for a half-million people. Queues grew to hundreds of meters long, with spirits high as one center overflowed and ballot boxes were brought onto the street, Reuters reported.

The interim government in Kyiv has denounced the referendum as illegal and a sham.  Only one question is on the ballot: Should the regions form independent republics?   Most residents against secession said they won't cast a vote.
 
A woman checks documents of a Ukrainian man before issuing him a paper ballot in Moscow, Russia, May 11, 2014. Many Ukrainians living in Moscow came to vote as well.A woman checks documents of a Ukrainian man before issuing him a paper ballot in Moscow, Russia, May 11, 2014. Many Ukrainians living in Moscow came to vote as well.
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A woman checks documents of a Ukrainian man before issuing him a paper ballot in Moscow, Russia, May 11, 2014. Many Ukrainians living in Moscow came to vote as well.
A woman checks documents of a Ukrainian man before issuing him a paper ballot in Moscow, Russia, May 11, 2014. Many Ukrainians living in Moscow came to vote as well.

But those who did file into polling stations said the recent violence in the east was reason enough to secede.

There is deep anger toward the interim government for its military campaign aimed at clearing out armed separatists from the dozens of government buildings they have seized in towns across the region.

The deaths of at least 42 people in Odessa after clashes and a fire on May 2 and about 20 in Mariupol after similar fighting this past Friday are figuring prominently in the minds of the voters.
 
"I voted today because I believe after what happened in Odessa and Mariupol, the unity in Ukraine is impossible and that it is better to secede," said translator Alec, 23.

Voting is due to end in the hastily arranged referendum in 53 locations at 10 p.m. local time (1900 UTC) and the rebels hope to have the ballots counted by Monday afternoon, although its outcome will not be widely recognized internationally or by Kyiv.

With several hours of polling to go, Russian news agencies were already reporting a turnout of more than 75 percent, although a separatist spokesman in Luhansk said troops had prevented the movement of ballot papers in several areas.

Kyiv's slow response

The government in Kyiv has been caught in a Catch-22 the past few weeks. By initially failing to take action against armed, Moscow-backed separatists, the government allowed the separatists to expand their reach. Then, when the central authorities later intervened, the clashes inflamed local anger.
 
Maria, 81, angry with Kyiv for anti-separatist campaign, May11, 2014 (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)Maria, 81, angry with Kyiv for anti-separatist campaign, May11, 2014 (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
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Maria, 81, angry with Kyiv for anti-separatist campaign, May11, 2014 (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)
Maria, 81, angry with Kyiv for anti-separatist campaign, May11, 2014 (Jamie Dettmer/VOA)

Maria, an 81-year-old grandmother, breaks down in tears after voting in a polling station in Pushkin Boulevard in central Donetsk. She says the Kyiv government consists of bandits and they are attacking people and burning them out.
 
She hasn't been able to sleep. Born in the Russian city of Smolensk, she has lived in Donetsk for 60 years and says she wants a normal life for her children and grandchildren.
 
Much of the fear about Kyiv can be linked to the output from Kremlin-controlled media outlets, which played up the off-and-on so-called "anti-terrorist" operations launched by Kyiv. This strategy has linked the Kyiv government's attempts to regain control in the public mind with the reprisal raids mounted during the Second World War by the Nazis.

Analysts say Kyiv has not helped to dispel that impression, pursing hit-and-run tactics that deny little territory to armed and club-wielding separatists but leave local residents fearful.

And some violence has marred the voting.

On the eastern outskirts of Mariupol, a little over an hour after polls opened, soldiers from Kyiv seized what they said were falsified ballot papers, marked with "yes" votes, and detained two men. They refused to hand the men over to policemen who came to take them away, saying they did not trust them. Instead they waited for state security officers to interview and arrest them.

Around 200 kilometers north, clashes broke out around a television tower on the edge of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk shortly before people began making their way through barricades of felled trees, tires and machinery to vote.

Election fraud possible

Voting appeared brisk, but analysts said the referendum is open to fraud. The vote, organized on an ad hoc basis with no clear controls over ballot papers or voter lists, has been widely criticized in Kyiv and in Western capitals.

No election monitors have been sent from foreign countries. And, analysts worry about the integrity of a vote being held while separatist intimidation and abductions are going on.

Most voters in Donetsk and Luhansk say they hope that if the referendum approves the regions' status as independent republics, Russia will quickly agree to annex them.

While one separatist leader said the region would form its own state bodies and military after the referendum, formalizing a split that began with the armed takeover of state buildings in a dozen eastern towns last month.
 
Another said the vote would not change the region's status, but simply show that the East wanted to decide its own fate, whether in Ukraine, on its own or as part of Russia.

 "All military troops on our territory after the official announcement of referendum results will be considered illegal and declared occupiers,'' said Denis Pushilin, a leader of the self-styled Donetsk republic said, according to an Interfax report. "It is necessary to form state bodies and military authorities as soon as possible."
  
People stand in a line to enter a polling station and to take part in the referendum on the status of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, May 11, 2014.People stand in a line to enter a polling station and to take part in the referendum on the status of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, May 11, 2014.
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People stand in a line to enter a polling station and to take part in the referendum on the status of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, May 11, 2014.
People stand in a line to enter a polling station and to take part in the referendum on the status of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, May 11, 2014.

Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov has warned secession supporters that independence for the regions would be "a step into the abyss." He has appealed to the rebels to join talks on greater autonomy in the east.

US will not recognize results

Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said late Saturday the U.S. will not recognize the results. She said the polls "violate international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine."

Psaki said the U.S. is "disappointed" that Russia has not used its influence in the region to postpone the poll, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's suggestion last week to delay the vote and his claim that Russian forces were pulling back from the Ukrainian border.

Instead, Psaki said, the U.S. does not have any indication the Russian military is moving away from the border. She said Russian state media continue to "strongly back" the referendums "with no mention of Putin's call for postponement."  

Western leaders blame Moscow for encouraging the separatist movement. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said Saturday they would back new economic sanctions against Moscow if the ongoing unrest threatens Ukraine's May 25 presidential election.

Some modest measures may come as soon as Monday, limited by the Europe Union's reluctance to upset trade ties with Russia.

Richard Stengel, of the U.S. Department of State, will travel to Kyiv, Ukraine; Riga, Latvia; and Brussels, Belgium, beginning May 12-16.

Under Secretary Stengel will use his trip to stress the need for greater regional engagement to support Ukraine’s upcoming May 25 elections, push back against efforts to delegitimize them and ensure that all Ukrainians are given the chance to decide their future for themselves.

Additional information was provided by AFP, Reuters, AP.

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by: SuperSaya from: California
May 12, 2014 2:04 AM
there are more yes's than people in the region LOL

by: matt from: los angeles
May 12, 2014 1:55 AM
Quite pathetic really. To think there was really any meaningful fraud that could have changed the unanimous results. Every Western journalist there saw long lines of voters who all spoke passionately about why they were voting yes. They had clear boxes that showed all visible votes were Yes. There is no reason to doubt the 90%+ being reported in early voting is anything but the true will of the people. And to keep calling the Eastern Ukrainians separatists and rebels is an insult to the entire region.

by: John from: 3rd party
May 12, 2014 1:40 AM
I would like to say many people hate Americans,but kept both world wars at peace and made sure no other country was made a victim. They help countries who suffer wars or starvation. My teacher told me it's easy to focus on the negative so fucus on the positive. See the good, Russians want to invade Europe, the the Americas. If you think voting is unfair do sit-ins or boycotts, peaceful protests not violence.

by: Major from: Texas
May 12, 2014 1:19 AM
Multiple voting... Does that sound familiar? And first they are burning down historical buildings and then they set up a voting box? So then if they don't like the results, they'll burn more buildings down?

by: ScoobyDOO from: Poltava
May 11, 2014 8:45 PM
The vote was a total sham! My friend wanted to vote NO but was asked how many other people she knew that didn't come. Then she was given 128 preprinted YES votes!!!(((
In Response

by: Tom Paine from: London
May 12, 2014 3:30 AM
Stop lying idiot, thats now true at all

by: Maksym from: Kyiv
May 11, 2014 5:49 PM
Separatists in the eastern Ukraine are not peaceful. It's main problem of their protest and "self-rule" referendum:
http://mvasin.org.ua/eng/2014/04/484

by: Dmytro from: Donetsk
May 11, 2014 1:42 PM
VOA tells the truth about what the people are saying followed by a whole bunch of lies directly out of US State Department or the British Foreign Office
In Response

by: Anonymous
May 11, 2014 8:57 PM
Loyal to your Country,please

by: Wroots from: Canada
May 11, 2014 1:41 PM
What I would like to see in Europe is the banishment of all US troops. Well over 50% of adults in Europe want them out, off our soil, and back to their own side of vthe Atlantic.

NONE of the present situation in the Ukraine would be happening if it had not been for the US instigated and funded coup in November. Everywhere the US parks itself, there is trouble. Everyone on Earth is sick of their perpetual wars, bullying, coercion, fear-mongering, warmongering and lies. Over one million people were killed in Iraq because of the Bush administration's lies and propaganda.

Let's rid our lands of these American monsters and send them back home. United, we are much bigger and stroger and we have 22 times the population of the US, so we can do it.
In Response

by: Flying Eagle from: Indian
May 13, 2014 7:35 AM
How many Native Indian that have been killed, plundered, slaughtered, expelled, and exterminated. Do you live in your own land or in a spoiled land. How many Innocent Indian lives and blood has gone in one reason. To gain more land and resources? Don't tell other country or people, just read your own history. Most people in Crimea are Russian, and they want to rejoin Russia (once they are part of Russia). Russia annex it without bloodshed. How about Hawaii? Read the history of Hawaii Annexation. Since when Hawaii is a homeland of US people who are from Europe? Read the History of US.


In Response

by: l99 from: US
May 12, 2014 2:14 AM
@Wroots. I suppose you've never lived in the USSR or Russia (as I did for many years). Lucky you, so you can now fantasize about "these American monsters". Did the US killed 50M (fifty. million.) of its own citizens in a peaceful time, like the USSR did from mid-1920s to 1940? I don't think so. Do you know how many of those people died of hunger, whole families, adults, seniors and kids, during Bolshevik-organized Holodomor? I see you are from Canada. There are many Holodomor memorials there.

by: Robertl1080 from: USA
May 11, 2014 12:50 PM
Whats even more crazy "Meanbill" is that no one realizes whats really going on.The Russians have seen the power of the Arab Spring and are recreating it by using Spec op's and KGB agents.I would assume its to regain lost territory for one and 2nd to simply try to pull it off knowing that if it works they could use similar tactics in other areas of the world to remap the globe in a manner that fits in Russia's best interest.The new form of Geo-political warfare started unknowingly by a few fed up Arab nations with unhappy people,now mastered and controlled by the government to use unhappy people to gain land from other nations without the use of war.

by: meanbill from: USA
May 11, 2014 11:00 AM
CRAZY isn't it? -- The US and EU say they won't recognize the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk Independent States, or recognize their votes -- (BUT IN REALITY?) -- most of the existing Independent States in the world, (16 or more), are not recognized by the UN, because of objections from one or more UN countries...
What the US and EU won't recognize, Russia and other countries will -- (Like in Kosovo?) -- Russia and other countries don't recognize it either? -- (It's legal or illegal, in the eyes of the political views, of the those who will or will not recognize the Independent State).. -- (Psaki who?) ....... REALLY?
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