A top Ukrainian official said that elections in eastern Ukraine will be possible only after Ukraine's sovereignty is renewed in the region and Russia's presence is eliminated in those territories.
A deputy speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Oksana Syroyid, told VOA on Friday that from the Ukrainian perspective, any elections under current conditions would legitimize those who occupy Ukrainian territory. It would mean bringing them into Ukrainian politics, she said, which would end up destroying the Ukrainian state and its sovereignty.
WATCH: Kyiv Sees No Elections in Eastern Ukraine Until Russians Leave
In a broader sense, Syroyid said, Russian deoccupation should include eliminating the impact of Russian propaganda, reconciliation of all the people in Ukraine's Donbass region and the withdrawal of all Russian agents from the area.
Only after such conditions are fulfilled, she said, could holding elections in the occupied territories be discussed, and they should reflect the legitimacy of the people who live there, including those who now have the status of internally displaced people.
The current situation exists because Russia one day decided to invade part of a neighboring country, Syroyid said. The parties are not equal, she said; one is an invader and and one is a nation-victim, and the international community should not treat them the same way.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of giving military aid to the separatists in the Donbass region, something Russia has repeatedly denied, saying that those who fight alongside separatists are Russian volunteers.
Holding elections in the east is seen by Ukraine's European partners, Germany and France, as a way to end the two-year conflict in eastern Ukraine that has claimed about 9,200 lives.
US position on elections
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner reiterated at a press briefing Friday what Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland said in Kyiv earlier in the week — that the U.S. has not set a specific deadline for when elections happen in eastern Ukraine.
Toner said that the U.S. is more concerned that Minsk require sufficient security and monitor access and that candidates have the ability to get their names on the ballot, and that citizens are able to hear from candidates before elections are held in the Donbass region.
A Ukrainian lawmaker said after meeting Nuland earlier in the week that she was setting a July deadline for the elections, which Nuland categorically denied.
The level of violence observed in eastern Ukraine since the cease-fire went into effect in September has been an issue of concern for the U.S., Toner said. The Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe blames separatists for most of the 30,000 violations in April alone.
A conflict of such proportions in part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory is certainly “destabilizing” to say the least, Toner added. The U.S. calls on Russia and the separatists that it supports to fully comply and observe the cease-fire, Toner said.
STAND for Ukraine Act
U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, and Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, announced in a statement Friday that they had introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to address the crisis in Ukraine — The STAND for Ukraine Act.
Calling Russian annexation of Crimea “illegal,” the act calls for a clarification of the position of the United States on Crimea, as well as for tightening sanctions on Russia and providing new, innovative support for Ukraine.
The proposal also directs the State Department to implement a strategy to respond to Russian propaganda and disinformation.
“Driven by President [Vladimir] Putin, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has undermined that country’s sovereignty, and at the same time threatened our own long-term investment in a Europe that is whole, free and at peace,” Engel said. The act “makes clear that the United States will not just stand by as Putin bullies his neighbors, tests the resolve of NATO, and works to fracture Western unity.”
Kinzinger said it had been obvious time and again that “there is no stopping Vladimir Putin’s disrespect for global order, especially in regards to Ukraine. It is time for the United States to stand with Ukraine legislatively and most effectively,” he said.
A bipartisan group of 14 members, including the bipartisan leadership of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, joined Engel and Kinzinger in introducing the Stability and Democracy (STAND) for Ukraine Act (H.R. 5094).
VOA’s Ukrainian service and reporters Cindy Saine and Nike Ching contributed to this report.