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Pro-Russia insurgents to hold vote in east Ukraine



DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) - The photocopy machines churning out the ballots for eastern Ukraine's sovereignty referendum have been clattering around the clock for days. Even the powerful Vladimir Putin can't stop them.

Despite the Kremlin leader's plea to postpone Sunday's vote, the pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine who call themselves the Donetsk People's Republic said they'll go ahead with the referendum.

Ukraine has in recent weeks grown perilously polarized - with the west looking toward Europe and the east favoring closer ties with Russia. Insurgents who detest the central government in Kiev that took power amid chaos in February have seized police stations and government buildings in more than a dozen cities in the east. Ukrainian forces have mounted an offensive to drive them out, an operation that has left several dozen dead.

Support for the referendum is most pronounced among eastern Ukraine's proudly Russian-speaking working class. Rage against the central government that came to power after months of Ukrainian nationalist-tinged protests is blended with despair at Ukraine's dire economic straits and corruption.

The occasionally violent protests that culminated in President Viktor Yanukovych's fleeing to Russia were for many in the east seen as a putsch and a portent of repression against the region's Russian-speakers.

"This isn't our government. It's the government of those that destroyed everything," said construction laborer Galina Lukash, 48.

Along with the vote in the eastern Donetsk region, a similar and even more hastily improvised referendum is due to take place Sunday in the neighboring Luhansk region. Together they have about 6.5 million people.

The referenda are similar to the one in Crimea in March that preceded Russia's annexation of that strategic Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula. Like the one in Crimea, they are regarded as illegitimate both by Kiev and the West.

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\ But unlike the Crimean vote, which was held as Russian soldiers and affiliated local militias held control of the peninsula, the eastern referenda take place amid armed conflict. And, critically, unlike Crimea, whose majority Russian-speaking population made approval a foregone conclusion, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have a more mixed population.

A poll by the Washington-based Pew Research center released on Thursday found that 70 percent of the residents of Ukraine's east want Ukraine to maintain its current borders. That suggests the referenda have a chance of failing, if opponents turn out in force and the count is honest.

However those opposed to the referendum seem likely to ignore it. Some have grown desperate at the anarchy in eastern Ukraine.

"This is a madhouse. That isn't a particularly literary word, I know, but there is no better way to put it. People are killing one another and we don't know why," said 58-year-old retiree Svetlana Amitina.

Putin's surprise call on Wednesday for the referendum to be put off appears to reflect Russia's desire to distance itself from the separatists. The West and the Ukrainian government accuse Russia of supporting or outright directing the unrest in the east, while Moscow denies involvement.

"Russia has made it clear it doesn't want the referendum, so it has no obligation to recognize its results, especially if it fails," said Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies think-tank.

The decision Thursday by the insurgents' councils to go ahead with the votes reinforces Russia's claim it is not in league with the separatists.

"Putin is seeking a way out of the situation. We are grateful to him for this, but we are just a bullhorn for the people. We just voice what the people want," said Donetsk People's Republic co-chairman Denis Pushilin.

The Donetsk People's Republic, which arose in chaotic and murky circumstances in early April, claims to want full autonomy from Ukraine, which they say has been led by a "fascist junta" since Donetsk region native Yanukovych was toppled.

To that end, insurgent election officials say some 3 million ballot papers have been printed for the vote that asks one question: "Do you support the act of proclamation of independent sovereignty for the Donetsk People's Republic?"

Despite the phrasing, organizers say they decide only after the vote whether they want independence, greater autonomy within Ukraine or annexation by Russia.

Russian state media describe the Donetsk People's Republic movement as "supporters of federalization," reflecting Moscow's official line that it would like Ukraine's government to devolve some powers to the regions. But many in Donetsk say they would like their would-be republic to one day join their eastern neighbor. The Russian tricolor often flutters over the several dozen government offices seized and occupied by anti-government groups.

If Putin chooses to dash the hopes of those in his own country and in eastern Ukraine who crave another Crimea-style annexation, his now sky-high approval ratings could suffer. But pursuing expansionist goals, or even tacitly supporting anti-government movements in Ukraine, will likely prompt new and substantially more punitive Western sanctions against Russia.

Donetsk People's Republic elections chief Roman Lyagin said there will be around 1,200 polling stations and he expects a turnout of 70 percent.

"Preparations are going according to schedule. Almost the entire run of ballots has been prepared," said Lyagin told The Associated Press.

Campaigning for the referendum has been negligible, largely relying on crude graffiti. Many sidewalks bear spray-painted stencil images of the word "referendum" next to a crossed-out swastika.

The Donetsk People's Republic has its own radio and television stations and a fledgling online presence, all of which have churned out a steady diet of anti-Kiev invective.

The Donetsk People's Republic was formed April 7 by pro-Russia activists after the storming of a regional administrative building. In subsequent days, heavily armed men began storming police stations and city halls. Journalists, activists and politicians sympathetic to the government started to go missing. Horlivka city council representative Volodymyr Rybak turned up dead, bearing signs of torture.

A climate of fear has grown, fueled by the now-common sight of gunmen roaming even the regional capital, Donetsk.

"We are remaining quiet, because we are simply afraid for our lives," said Diana Dekatiryova, a university student. "The thought I have is to stay away from the referendum, because nothing will depend on our vote anyway."

The resolve of many pro-Russians has been emboldened by Ukrainian government operations to militarily recapture Slovyansk, a city 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Donetsk and under the control of the armed Donetsk People's Republic.

A view shared by many anti-government activists - and eagerly promoted by Kremlin-backed television - is that Ukrainian authorities are shooting people who just want closer relations with Russia.

"They can't kill everybody. We must cry out. The whole world must learn about this," said Tamara Soynikova, 59, member of a Donetsk People's Republic election panel in the city of Kostiantynivka.

In contrast, pro-Ukrainian sentiments are especially pronounced among the younger generation, those with no memory of living in the Soviet Union.

"We were born in Ukraine, we live in Ukraine. What does it matter that we're Russian?" said first-year law student Arkady Sabronov, 18.

Join the discussion

1000|Characters 1000  Characters
Mick Got May 08 2014 at 4:54 PM

Some things turn clear, the region is in very bad shape with problems and Putin just doesn't want it (per discussion on Echo of Moscow yesterday).

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jaikens3 May 08 2014 at 5:27 PM

If Crimea and now pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine can hold referendums and vote to leave, then the six Muslim majority republics in the Russian Federation should also have the right to vote. Chechnya would be gone tomorrow. There's a reason so many countries left the former Soviet Union.

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2 replies
Mick Got jaikens3 May 08 2014 at 5:42 PM

A MYTH. Nobody wants freedom in Chechnya besides radical muslim terrorists who want it for drug trafficking, people kidnapping, and for terrorists activities. Chechen rebels are from all over the middle east and Africa fighting for money, not for freedom. LEARN, while you are lucky you are being taught something.

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2 replies
sandinbox Mick Got May 08 2014 at 7:32 PM

After what Russian and his puppets in Chechnya did to the chechen people was a crime. It's no wonder they turned radical.

Flag 0 rate up
astronauty Mick Got May 09 2014 at 12:17 AM

Why do they hate the Russians so much?

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sandinbox jaikens3 May 08 2014 at 7:31 PM

JAIKENS3...yOU'RE SO RIGHT. for what Putin did to Chechnya was a crime that he got away with.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
d.carns May 08 2014 at 5:31 PM

When will the American people stop listening to Obama and Kerry and realize that Ukrainian people are fighting to be indepent of the Kiev nazi facism illegal government.
they do not want to join Russia. Please wake up people.

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4 replies
magus47 May 08 2014 at 5:39 PM

This whole affar reminds me of Americans who attend a British cricket match. We don't know the rules. We don't understand how the game is played. We sure as hell don't know which team to cheer for. We should just sit, drink our beer, eat our fish and chips and wait to see the outcome of the game.

But for some reason we, being American, think we are qualified to referee the game.

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2 replies
SRJimVal2 magus47 May 08 2014 at 5:48 PM

It's not all of us that think we are qualified to ref, and I think most of us don't want our taxes paying for it.

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1 reply
JTalltrees1 SRJimVal2 May 08 2014 at 6:13 PM

EXACTLY!!Well put!

Flag 0 rate up
sandinbox magus47 May 08 2014 at 7:16 PM

magus47....The only ones who don't know what's going on are people like you who don't understand the history of Ukraine??? So you probably just shouldn't say anything.

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vladswim May 08 2014 at 5:40 PM

Its too bad, I was hoping the Russian forces would be sent to get rid of fascism once and for all.

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4 replies
Camp Bulldog May 08 2014 at 5:45 PM

There is not one country on this planet ...that would put up with 'Rebels" taking over Government buildings...

That said...The Ukraine military/Police to increase the degree of force. Continue to first order them out. If they refuse...do whatever it takes. It becomes their choice.

Law & order will be maintained.

Elections are coming up later this month.

VOTE!

FREEDOM..Independence for Ukraine

Flag Reply +1 rate up
5 replies
zentalent May 08 2014 at 5:50 PM

This scenario is going on here. Just switch the names around. russia is like mexico and calif is like ukraine.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
Mick Got zentalent May 08 2014 at 5:53 PM

ha ha ha ha another house pet posting.
Russia calls Ukraine - Mexico and Ukrainians - Mexicans for the past 12 years because there are tons of Ukrainians illegally living and working in Russia.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
sandinbox Mick Got May 08 2014 at 7:08 PM

There are millions of Russians living and working in USA illegally...so what's your point?

Flag 0 rate up
dfry006 Mick Got May 08 2014 at 7:21 PM

sandinbox
There are millions illegal UKRAINIANS in USA, stop lying.
All immigration on Brighton Beech in the past 12 years is from U.K.R.A.I.N.E, they live 4 in a room. Men work for sub contractors doing cheap home renovations, women work as house keepers (if lucky), otherwise they wash floors in russian restaurant. Young women offer themselves for $120/Hr, all from Kiev and west of it.

Flag 0 rate up
dean552014 zentalent May 08 2014 at 6:01 PM

isn't CA part of mexico ??

Flag Reply 0 rate up
dean552014 May 08 2014 at 5:58 PM

Question-- There is but 2 car dealers in your town, that you are permitted to buy a used car from, And have but little money--- which salesman do you trust more-- OBAMA or PUTIN ????

Flag Reply +1 rate up
4 replies
rgkarasiewicz May 08 2014 at 6:03 PM

Throw out the American puppet junta in Ukraine now!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
sandinbox rgkarasiewicz May 08 2014 at 7:07 PM

rgkarasiewicz...Putin troll...this person is a paid Putin puppet...everything they say is a lie and an agitation. lying low life scum.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
rgkarasiewicz sandinbox May 08 2014 at 7:18 PM

Including the part that the CIA recruited savage mercenaries to violently overthrow the duly elected government in Kiev?

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almazstmp May 08 2014 at 5:25 PM

You can hate Putin or love him, but at this time he is the only leader holding the line against fascism and genocide. God bless him.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
Camp Bulldog almazstmp May 08 2014 at 5:53 PM

The two words Soviets...Genocide go together very well.
Since the Soviets/Russians killed off more people than Hitler did....yet there are no Soviet/Russian war criminals.

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2 replies
Mick Got Camp Bulldog May 08 2014 at 5:56 PM

Your mouth is a war criminal.

Flag 0 rate up
astronauty Camp Bulldog May 09 2014 at 12:18 AM

Because history is written by the winners. http://history1900s.about.com/od/worldwarii/a/nonaggression.htm

Russia is becoming more and more a totalitarian state. Stay on topic. Putin told them to delay the vote and they are not going to. That is the issue. This is a sham. Let all of the Ukraine vote.....not just those people in that area. Let them vote to let them go back to Russia if they want to. But otherwise, this is a farce.

Flag 0 rate up
sandinbox almazstmp May 08 2014 at 7:33 PM

almazstmp...OMG you are beyond belief....who are Ukrainians going to kill...tell us another good lie Putin troll.....genocide against whom? This last comment made me laugh...you funny guy!!!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
sandinbox sandinbox May 08 2014 at 7:35 PM

Mick Got...your mouth and the other PAID PUTIN TROLLS ON THIS SITES MOUTHS ARE A WAR CRIME...YOU ARE TRULY THE WAR CRIMINALS AND YOUR LEADER.

Flag +1 rate up
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