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Pro-Russian armed militants guard a checkpoint blocking the major highway which links Kharkiv, outside Slovyansk, Ukraine, Saturday, May 24, 2014. Ukrainians vote Sunday in an early presidential election that could be a crucial step toward resolving the country's crisis, but separatists in the east are threatening to block the vote. The election, which comes six months after the outbreak of protests that led to the president's ouster and a deepening chasm between pro-Europe and pro-Russia Ukrainians, aims to unify the fiercely divided country or at least discourage further polarization.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Voting unlikely Sunday in eastern Ukraine
First Published May 24 2014 09:47 pm • Last Updated May 24 2014 09:47 pm

Kiev, Ukraine • Pro-Russian insurgents are likely to prevent voting Sunday in half or more of the election districts in the embattled east, Ukrainian officials say.

Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Yarovyi said Saturday that police are ready to ensure order and security at polling stations in just nine of the 34 districts in the east.

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Earlier, Volodymyr Hrinyak, chief of the public security department at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said 17 out of 34 district election commissions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are not operating because their offices have either been seized or blocked by armed men.

The insurgents have controlled parts of Ukraine for weeks. Following their declaration of independence earlier this month, they pledged to derail the vote, which they regard as an election in "a neighboring country." They remain defiant, but Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that he is prepared to work with the election winner.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in a televised address late Friday night that the election will be the first step to stabilize the situation in the east.

"I would like to assure all my compatriots in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions who will be prevented from going to the polling stations by the war waged on Ukraine: The criminals don’t have much time left to terrorize our land," Yatsenyuk said.

Leaders of various Christian churches as well as Muslim leaders gathered at Kiev’s main cathedral, the St. Sophia Cathedral, to pray for peace and a free and fair election in Ukraine. Ukraine’s interim president, prime minister, cabinet ministers as well as lawmakers took part in prayers at the cathedral that dates back to the 11th century.

Twenty-one candidates are competing to become Ukraine’s next leader. Polls show billionaire candymaker Petro Poroshenko with a commanding lead, but short of the absolute majority needed to win in the first round.




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