KIEV: Billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko faces a formidable task to end the crisis which has brought Ukraine to the brink of collapse as he prepared on Monday to be formally declared the country’s president.
The pro-Western confectionary tycoon trounced his rivals and won close to 54 percent in Sunday’s vote, results published from over half the constituencies so far showed.
But just hours after his apparent victory, there was a sharp reminder of the huge challenges ahead for Poroshenko as armed separatists who refuse to recognize Kiev’s legitimacy forced the closure of the main airport in the rebel-held eastern city of Donetsk on Monday.
An Agence France -Presse correspondent saw truckloads of armed men in camouflage gear head to towards the airport and a spokesman for the facility said it now appeared to be under rebel control.
Poroshenko, a 48-year-old former cabinet minister, had said on Sunday he would work immediately to end a bloody pro-Russian insurgency that prevented voting across swathes of the industrial east and to fix an recession-hit near bankrupt economy.
“My first decisive step will be aimed at ending the war, ending chaos, and bringing peace to a united and free Ukraine,” he said after polls closed in a vote billed as the most important since Ukraine’s independence in 1991.
“I am certain that our decisive actions will bring fairly quick results,” he added.
The latest results put Poroshenko far ahead of his nearest rival, the divisive former prime minister and Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko with 13 percent.
It also means he should avoid the need for a June 15 runoff that would have extended political uncertainty and put more pressure on East-West relations that are already at a post-Cold War low. Final results are expected on Monday.
However, while turnout was strong across the capital Kiev and the more pro-European west on Sunday, voting was largely blocked in two eastern regions that make up 15 percent of the electorate—raising concerns about the legitimacy of Poroshenko’s mandate across the entire country and in Moscow.
The election commission said voting had been suspended by militants in 24 of Ukraine’s 213 constituencies.
But US President Barack Obama praised Ukrainians for showing courage by voting in the face of the threat posed by militants who have seized about a dozen cities and towns in a seven-week rebellion.
“Despite provocations and violence, millions of Ukrainians went to the polls throughout the country, and even in parts of eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatist groups sought to disenfranchise entire regions, some courageous Ukrainians still were able to cast their ballots,” the White House quoted Obama as saying.
Germany said it hoped Moscow would respect the result of the vote.