Ukraine held its presidential elections today as many in the eastern part of the country headed to the polls to cast their ballot on who will be the next leader of an independent Ukraine. However, many in the eastern regions of the country, which have been overran by pro-Russian separatists were unable to vote due to intimidation tactics by rebels, including the destroying of ballot boxes, and blockades of polling places.
Many polling places in the eastern region of Donetsk were closed as only 426 out of 2,431 polling stations were open according to the regional administration in Donetsk, with nearly none open in the region of Luhansk which hindered the ability to vote for the nearly 5.1 million eligible voters living in the embattled regions. Many election officials in the regions have been threatened over the past few days by gunmen who have threatened violence and kidnappings if officials sought to ensure the elections were held in the region.
Earlier this month, separatists held a referendum on May 11th, to seek independence from Ukraine. While the vote “passed,” many deem it illegal. However, separatists leaders in Donetsk have already created the “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” however it is unclear how they plan on succeeding from Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk asked that all Ukrainians headed to the polls to vote in the presidential elections, saying that to do so would show a unified Ukraine, a country in which they will not be intimidated. He also went on to assure those in the eastern region of Donetsk and Luhansk that although they are unable to vote, those “who have waged war against Ukraine,” do not have much time left to terrorize them.
According to the Ukrainian election committee, nearly 38 percent of eligible voters turned out for Sunday’s election as of 3 p.m. Ukrainian time, but that figure did not represent the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which local authorities report that 11.8 percent of around one million participated in the elections.
Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire “Chocolate King”, who was expected to win the election, declared victory as preliminary polls showed him with 56 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko conceded the election to Poroshenko after polls showed her trailing with just 13 percent of the vote.
Tymoshenco, who served 2-1/2 years in prison for “abuse of office” charges was a hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, stated that Ukraine must join the European Union and NATO saying, “I am convinced that Ukraine can be strong, happy and prosperous if it becomes a member of the European Union,” Tymoshenco wnt on to way that, “It is time to conduct a referendum on NATO membership in order to bring peace back to the country.”
The elections that many in Kiev and the west hope will help unify the divided nation, cam of e three months after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country for Russia amid massive protests after he opted out of a pact with the European Union in favor of a stronger relationship with Moscow.
By Nathaniel Pownell