Ukraine Prepares Presidential Election, Voting in Donetsk and Luhansk at Risk

Ukraine Prepares Presidential Election, Voting in Donetsk and Luhansk at Risk

After two days of intense violence and death, it is quiet in Ukraine one day before a historic presidential election. The presidential candidates are out of the public eye due to a law that forbids campaigning 24 hours before an election, but fear looms around the corner as Kiev and east Ukraine worry about voting disruptions.

But will there be voting in east Ukraine? Christopher Miller from The Kyiv Post is in small mining towns in Donetsk Oblast, and he found empty polling stations. One election committee official in Artemivsk told him the town will not vote due to threats. 

This town is not the only one. Opora, a national election watchdog, released a report ahead of the election that said half of the polling stations in Donetsk and Luhansk are under threat.

“The reasons are terrorist attack and personal threats to local election commission members, intimidations, kidnapping of local election commission members and destruction of documents,” the Opora report reads. “As a result election commissions cannot fulfill their duties and their members rotate all the time.”

Jim Sciutto at CNN is in east Ukraine and tweeted pictures of polling stations.

According to The Kyiv Post, “offices were seized in Artemivsk, Horlivka, Konstantynivka, Makiivka, Shahtarsk, Starobeshevo, Telmanovo, Amrosievka, Mariupol and Donetsk.” Regions in Donetsk Oblast held their own referendum on May 11 and claimed 90% of the residents voted for independence from Ukraine. Yet, the referendum was littered with voting violations, including 100,000 ballots marked YES.

Pro-Ukrainians were harassed after the referendum, but it grew worse the week before the election. Timur, who refused to give The Kyiv Post his last name, said he finally had to remove a Ukrainian ribbon from his clothes and many people like him are now underground. Another woman told the Associated Press she was picked for an election committee and was held at gunpoint when men ambushed a meeting.

“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.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged Ukrainians to vote on Sunday according to their beliefs and conscience. He promised elections will not be bought anymore. The 2004 and 2010 elections were plagued with fraud and corruption; both centered around now ousted Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.

“Your vote won’t be stolen. It’s only you who can make use of it. Make your choice according to your beliefs and conscience. This is the expression of the will of Ukrainians in the west, the east, the north and the south, this will be a fair and unhindered choice,” he said in the address to the nation, posted on the government’s official Web site on Saturday.

“We’ll go to the election polls on May 25. These will be the election of our president, [voting] for freedom, prosperity and the European future that Ukrainians are paying the highest price – the price of their own life. That is why the choice that we will make on Sunday is of more importance, and the responsibility of each of us is of a greater extent. Tomorrow we’ll show the world and mostly ourselves that we can’t be intimidated, it’s only up to us how we should build our home and manage it,” the address said.