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Eastern Ukraine Wraps Up Vote On Independence; Clashes Reported

Patients at a hospital cast ballots in a referendum on Sunday in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Brendan Hoffman
Getty Images
Patients at a hospital cast ballots in a referendum on Sunday in Mariupol, Ukraine.
(This post was updated at 3:55 p.m. ET.)

Residents of two fractious regions of eastern Ukraine wrapped up voting on Sunday in a controversial referendum over independence from the central government in Kiev.

Separatists opened polls at 8 a.m. local time (1 a.m. EDT) in Donetsk and Luhansk, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's call last week to postpone the vote. Ukrainian acting President Oleksandr Turchynov called it an act of self-destruction and "a step into the abyss," The New York Times says.

Reporting from Luhansk, NPR's Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit that the voting seemed to go smoothly, with officials checking in a steady stream of voters.

In other parts of the country, however, clashes between pro-Russian militants and Ukrainian armed forces were reported. The Washington Post reportsthat in Krasnoarmeisk, national guardsmen fired into a crowd.

Everyone he talked to in Luhansk, Corey said, told him they voted in favor of the referendum and they explained their vote using lines often repeated on Russian state TV.

Voters, reports Corey, say they are fed up with the central government in Kiev, which they say is led by fascists and Neo-Nazis.

The electorate in Donetsk is answering yes or no to a single question on the copy-paper ballot: "Do you support the act of self-rule of the Donetsk People's Republic?" The ballot in Luhansk asks a similar question.

According to the Times, voters were unsure if the wording meant a vote for more local autonomy, independence from Kiev or an invitation for annexation by Moscow, as in Crimea.

No international observers monitored the more than 2,900 polling stations in the region, writes the Kyiv Post:

"The slapdash referendum was coordinated solely by volunteers with no prior experience and cost a mere $1,600, according to vote organizers. Nearly $700 of that money went to toner for printers used to create more than three million ballots, they said."

The voter list used was two years old, the Post writes, and the black-and-white ballots had no special marks to prevent duplication.

"Okay, it's not really in line with the law, but I think that's the only way out," Roman Lyagin, the 33-year-old head of Donetsk's hastily established election commission, told Reuters last week.

Andrew E. Kramer of the Times writes:

"In an indication of the uncertainty surrounding the elections, voting started early Saturday at one school in Donetsk for reasons that were unclear. And after armed men threatened to kill a principal in the Luhansk region who did not want voting at her school, the central government said education officials should not take risks to oppose the polling."

The United States and the European Union have said they will not recognize the result of the vote.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.