DONETSK, Ukraine: Separatists in eastern Ukraine voted on Sunday in controversial, Russian-backed leadership elections that Kiev and the West have refused to recognize and which threatened to deepen an international crisis over the conflict.
The elections in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic—based around the two main rebel-held cities—were billed as bringing a degree of legitimacy to the makeshift military regimes that already control them.
“I hope that our votes will change something. Perhaps we will finally be recognized as a real, independent country,” Tatyana Ivanovna, 65, said as she waited to cast her ballot in Donetsk’s school number 104.
“We need to be able to live normally,” said Valery Vitaliyevich, 50. “It’s terrible being afraid for your family at every bombardment. I will vote hoping that this will help the authorities to defend our interests against Kiev,” she added.
But Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko blasted the election as a violation of an already tattered truce deal signed on September 5, calling them “pseudo-elections that terrorists and bandits want to organize on occupied territory.”
They come after days of heavy fighting across the region.
Russia, which supports the rebels but denies sending troops to fight on their side, says it will recognize the results of the elections.
The United States and European capitals, which have imposed heavy economic sanctions on Russia, back Kiev in condemning the polls as illegal.