Ukraine will vote for a new president on Sunday, May 25, and residents in east Ukraine are facing intimidation and threats as the date draws near. Regions in Donetsk Oblast, including Donetsk and Luhansk, voted for independence from Ukraine on May 11, but Kyiv is determined to hold the election in those areas.
According to The Kyiv Post, the intimidation is so bad one Euromaidan activist finally took off his Ukraine ribbon.
Timur, a 21-year-old student from Luhansk and a local activist with the EuroMaidan Revolution, is remarkably persistent. Until recently, he has consistently worn a blue-yellow ribbon, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
But his patriotism causes him problems in eastern Ukraine, where Kremlin-backed separatism is strongest, especially in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, home to nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s 45 million people.
Several times he had to fight with thugs who see his ribbon and say: “Hey Ukrainian, get on your knees.” He also risks arrest.
Finally, Timur decided to take off his Ukrainian ribbon, since it is causing him too many problems.
“Now all of the Ukraine-oriented people have gone underground. It has become open hunting season on us,” he said, refusing to give his last name because of fears for his and his family’s safety.
On May 11, regions in Donetsk Oblast, including cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, allegedly voted for independence from Ukraine in a hastily thrown together referendum to form the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” The referendum was stained with multiple voting violations, and the West does not recognize the outcome. The retaliation against pro-Ukrainians grew worse after the referendum but reached rock bottom days before the presidential election.
This is how bad it is: 38-year-old mother and teacher Antoninia burst into tears when she spoke to Yuras Karmanau and Nataliya Vasilyeva of the Associated Press and begged the reporters not to use her last name. She is a regular woman, but her crime in the eyes of the pro-Russians is serving on an election board in Donetsk, which was chosen for her. She told the AP her group met in secret but was ambushed by ten armed separatists.
“We decided not to risk our lives and handed them our legal stamps, all the documents, voter rolls, keys. And we left the building,” she said.
Antonina was very lucky to escape. On May 19, United Nations human rights official Ivan Simonovic told Reuters of abductions, along with intimidation, of election officials in east Ukraine.
“We do have information on a number of presidents, of vice presidents of electoral commissions being abducted, being maltreated (in the eastern regions), with implications for a number of other members of the commissions,” Simonovic told Reuters in an interview.
The AP reported officials in charge of Ukraine’s “Chocolate King” Petro Poroshenko’s campaign were kidnapped outside of Luhansk. Poroshenko is ahead in the polls by 40% and owns Roshen, the largest chocolate company in Ukraine. In fact, Moscow upheld an order to freeze the accounts of Roshen in Russia, which cut the company off of $72 million in assets.
“There is intimidation. So besides direct security challenges there are also technical problems concerning the holding of the elections,” said Simonovic.