Voting opens in Ukraine amid fear and violence in Donetsk, Luhansk regions

Ukrainians are voting in a presidential election billed as the most important since they won their independence from Moscow 23 years ago, but armed pro-Russian separatists disrupted voting in eastern regions of the former Soviet republic.

There are 21 candidates on the ballot, which is widely seen as a crucial moment to unite the country. Confectionary tycoon Petro Poroshenko, known as the ‘chocolate king’, is the front runner in the elections.

19:30 Confectionary magnate Petro Poroshenko won Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday with an absolute majority, exit polls showed, averting the need for a runoff vote next month that he had said could destabilize the country.

Two polls gave Poroshenko, a billionaire businessman with long experience in government, 55.9 to 57.3 percent, well ahead of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in second place with just over 12 percent. If confirmed by results on Monday, there will be no need for a runoff vote on June 15.

Separatists want to twart voting

Pro-Russian separatists have disrupted voting in in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, stopping many polling stations from opening and smashing up ballot boxes. There were no polling stations open in Donetsk city, and across the region only seven out of 15 district electoral commissions were operating.

18:44 Three cars in Novoaidar in Luhansk region were fired on. One of the cars contained election ballots, but had license plates of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic. Eyewitnesses said one gun man was killed and his mother wounded. Four Kremlin-backed insurgents arrived and asked frightened police officers what happened. The shooting highlights how edgy both Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists are behaving, with tensions high and itchy trigger fingers.

17:30 Observers say 15 out of 34 constituency election commissions are not working in Donetsk region. The information according to Jock Mendoza-Wilson, spokesman for billionaire Rinat Akhmetov:

According to the information provided by the election observers on the morning of May 25, 15 of 34 constituency election commissions do not work in Donetsk Oblast: Donetsk, 41 ,42,43, 44, 45; Horlivka, 51,52; 53 – Yenakiyevo; 54 – Torez; 55 – Shakhtersk; 46 Artemovsk (some of he election commissions are open, but they don’t know what to do as they don’t have any ballots); 48th precinct – Kramatorsk; 56, 57 – Makeyevka; 60 precinct, Maryinka (the constituency election commission doesn’t work but some of the polling stations are open)

Some of the polling stations are open and are trying to organize the voting process in just seven electoral precincts:

47 precinct (Aleksandrovka) – Only 19 polling stations; in two election commissions, heads and secretariesr etired from responsibility but the commissions decided to continue working;

49 precinct (Dobropolye) – just 8 polling stations are not open in Dobropolye, including one station in Dobropolye district

50 precinct (Krasnoarmeysk). In Krasnoarmeysk, six polling stations are not open (out of 55).

58 precinct (Mariupol) – just four polling stations are not open

59 precinct (Mariupol) – 91 polling stations are open, 8 stations are closed;

61 precinct (Volnovakha) – Some of the polling stations have opened but early in the morning polling stations No. 140803, No.140800, No. 140792 have been seized by Donetsk People’s Republic representatives;

62 precinct (Starobeshevo)lthe electoral precincts are just receiving the voting bulletins. In Amvrosyevka, some unknown people have broken the windows of many buildings where the precinct election commissions sit.

16:15 Oleksandr Chernenko, head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog, said that Ukrainians soldiers who came to vote at a polling station in Novovodyane village of Luhansk, scared election officials who ran for their lives, thinking the armed men were separatists.

Chernenko says that the soldiers, who are serving in that village, came dressed in full military outfits, and carried weapons.

‘This really scared members of polling station, and the soldiers were left alone at the polling station. It took some time to persuade members of the commission that there is no danger. The military guys were in the voting lists, and had a right to receive ballots,’ Chernenko wrote on his Facebook page.

16:00 The voter turnout is 40.41% at the presidential election in Ukraine as of 15:00, according to the electronic indicator board in the Central Election Commission (CEC). Interfax Ukraine reports.

15:00 A video proving that Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov sent his soldiers to Ukraine has appeared on the Internet. Dozens of armed man started to fire into air in Donetsk. Their armoured vehicle bears title ‘Vostok’, which speaks for their identity. Vostok Battalion is notorious for participating in the ethnic cleansing in Chechnya and involvement in the Russian-Georgian war in 2008.

{movie}Vostok battalion in Donetsk, Ukraine.|right|16615{/movie}

14:15 There are armed people in camo in downtown Donetsk. After holding a rally pro-Russian separatists headed for a residence of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov who expressed his support for the current Ukrainian authorities. People are chanting: ‘Russia!’, ‘Akhmetov is a betrayer’, reports.

The Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog, reports a low turnout in a handful of open polling stations in Donetsk regions, where only seven district commissions of 15 opened today. ‘At the polling stations that opened up, the turnout by 11 am was five percent,’ Oleksandr Chernenko, head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine tweeted.

‘Not a single polling station is likely to start working. There are many checkpoints, people are afraid to go to polling stations, afraid of shooting. At 5 am we could hear shots from somewhere on the outskirts of Donetsk,’ Belsat TV correspondent Yuras Wysocki.

Earlier several leaders of separatists declared they would prevent holding the presidential elections because ‘Donetsk and Luhansk regions are not the territory of Ukraine.’

A single favourite?

Polls make Poroshenko overwhelming favourite to win Sunday’s election (35%). He was a strong backer of the protests against Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich last winter and has sought a quick victory by warning that new unrest might prevent a second round.

His closest, if distant, rival is Yulia Tymoshenko (6.5%), a former prime minister. She remains a divisive figure to many, more closely linked than Poroshenko with the economic failures and graft that have blighted post-Soviet Ukraine.

According to polls, 53% of Ukrainians believe that the elections won’t be rigged.

‘Earlier there was a practice of bribing voters: someone standing near a polling station offered money for your vote. We have not had any information on either gross violations or attempts to pay votes. In my opinion, most Ukrainians ‘have woken up’ and want the elections to be fair. We expect a high voter turnout,’ Ryhor Astapenia, a Belarusian election observer in Kyiv, says.

Ukraine has 35.5 mln voters, but 6.9 mln of them — in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions — may not get to vote in the May 25 presidential election. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a second round will take place in June., following,,

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