East Ukraine's Unrest Keeps Voters Away From Polls

After months of unrest, Ukrainians are casting their votes in a presidential election they hope will achieve a measure of stability in the country.
Posted at 3:26 PM, May 25, 2014

Billionaire tycoon Petro Poroshenko is claiming victory in Ukraine's presidential elections — even as unrest in the country's east all but derailed voting in some regions. (Via Flickr / European Parliament)

According to the BBC, early poll numbers suggest Poroshenko, known as the chocolate king in Ukraine for his popular candy company, won with more than 55 percent of the vote Sunday. (Via BBC)

The charismatic and divisive former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko came in second. She became the darling of the protest movement after spending more than two years in prison on corruption charges. (Via Flickr / Minirobot)

In an op-ed for Al Jazeera, a Ukrainian journalist explains: "For the first time in Ukrainian history, both top-runners are pro-EU, and there is no viable candidate to take the pro-Russian side."

That leaves out many viewpoints in the country's east, but a writer for The Nation explains Poroshenko's frontrunner status also presents issues for those who protested the country's now ousted prime minister Viktor Yanukovych. 

"Euromaidan protesters ... sought an end to the corruption, selective justice and crony capitalism that had plagued the country since the fall of the Soviet Union. How ironic, then, that the man who will likely be elected president ... is a leading representative of this old way of doing things ... Poroshenko is an oligarch who has shifted political allegiances ... and exploited political ties for commercial gain."

Ukraine's long-awaited election was overshadowed by instability. Those in western Ukraine saw long lines and wait times at polling stations, while disruptions from pro-Russian separatists in the country's east could threaten the legitimacy of the election's outcome.

According to CNN, as of 3 p.m. local time in Kiev, voter turnout nationwide was about 41 percent. But according to federal government officials, the turnout in the country's east was only about nine percent. 

Several reports indicate polling stations in eastern cities such as Donetsk and Mariupol have been completely shutdown. Polls remain open in other eastern cities, but correspondents on the ground say citizens were afraid to go vote as rebels continue to clash with Ukrainian forces. (Via MSNBC)

USA Today explains: "Ukraine's government says reports of kidnappings, threats and arson have plagued election offices throughout the eastern region. Separatist leaders — who command heavily armed militias — have also threatened to arrest would-be voters."

Earlier this year, armed separatists captured administrative buildings in Ukraine's industrial heartland — Luhansk and Donetsk — and declared the region's independence from Ukraine. (Via Euronews

But some locals, who support independence from Ukraine, say they had no intention of voting anyway since they don't recognize the interim government put in place in Kiev after former president Victor Yanukovich's ouster in February. 

The removal of the Moscow-backed leader after months of protests triggered further turmoil in the country and intervention from Russia, which moved troops into eastern regions such as Crimea in a move it says was necessary to protect ethnic Russians. (Via The New York Times)

But President Vladimir Putin says Russia will "respect" the outcome of this weekend's election, and voiced hope that a new Ukrainian leader will halt the country's military operation against the separatist movement in the east. (Via CNBC)