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Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Voters in two insurgent Ukrainian regions cast ballots Sunday on whether to declare their areas sovereign republics, a move denounced by the central government and likely to deepen the turmoil in the largely Russian-speaking east.

Although the voting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions appeared mostly peaceful, armed men identified as members of the Ukrainian national guard opened fire on a crowd outside a town hall in Krasnoarmeisk, and an official with the region’s insurgents said people were killed. It was not clear how many.

The bloodshed took place hours after dozens of armed men shut down the voting in the town, and it starkly showed the hair-trigger tensions in the east, where pro-Russian separatists have seized government buildings and clashed with Ukrainian forces over the past month.

Ukraine has accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest, and on Sunday the Foreign Ministry called the twin referendums a “criminal farce.” The U.S. and other Western governments have branded the balloting a violation of international law and said they won’t recognize the outcome.

The results were not expected to be announced until Monday afternoon. Organizers predicted high turnout across the two industrial regions, which have a combined population of 6.5 million.

The head of the referendum organizers in Donetsk said the ultimate status of the region would be discussed later and would include the possibility of secession or annexation by Russia.

“We are just saying to the world that we want changes, we want to be heard,” election commission head Roman Lyagin said.

The violence in Krasnoarmeisk, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the regional capital, Donetsk, came hours after armed men, one of whom said they were from the national guard, broke up the voting outside the town hall and took control of the building.

In the evening, more armed men arrived in a van, and a scuffle broke out with people gathered around the building. Then the men fired shots.

An Associated Press photographer who witnessed the shooting said two people lay motionless on the ground. Insurgent leader Denis Pushilin was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying there were an unspecified number of deaths.

Over the past few weeks, the Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of trying to destabilize the country or create a pretext for another invasion. Russia – which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula just days after voters there approved secession in a March referendum – has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the organizers of the latest referendums to delay the vote in an apparent attempt to ease the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents refused to heed his call.

Election organizers said turnout topped 70 percent by late afternoon, but with no international election monitors in place, it was all but impossible to confirm such claims.

At one polling station at a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that autonomy had been selected.

Most opponents of sovereignty appeared likely to stay away from the polls rather than risk drawing attention to themselves.

Darya, a 25-year-old medical worker who would not give her last name, said she saw no point in casting a ballot, since the vote had no legal force.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

There were no immediate signs of any outright intimidation by pro-Russian forces Sunday, and insurgents near the polls were not wearing their usual balaclavas.

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after the polls opened because election officials failed to bring a ballot box. After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government headed by acting President Oleksandr Turchynov. One said she would not take part in a nationwide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or in our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev. Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east have accused the new government of intending to trample the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Voters in eastern Ukraine lined up at the polls in a twin referendum on sovereignty for two heavily populated industrial regions Sunday, amid warnings from the central government that the balloting was illegal and was being bankrolled by Moscow.

The voting took a bloody turn when Ukrainian national guardsmen opened fire on a crowd outside a town hall in Krasnoarmeisk, and an official with the region’s insurgents said there were deaths. It was not immediately clear how many.

The shooting took place hours after dozens of guardsmen shut down the voting in the town.

At issue in the two referendums was the status of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, warned on Saturday that independence for eastern regions would destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” he said on the presidential website.

But the head of the referendum organizers in Donetsk said approval of the question wouldn’t immediately lead to attempts to split off from the country. He characterized the voting as an effort to show the central government that the largely Russian-speaking east has legitimate concerns.

“We want only to state our right to self-determination,” election commission head Roman Lyagin said. “After the announcement of the results, absolutely nothing will change in the status of the Donetsk region. We won’t stop being part of Ukraine. We won’t become part of Russia. We are just saying to the world that we want changes, we want to be heard.”

However, he said that the ultimate status of the region would be discussed later, and includes the possibility of secession or the seeking of annexation by Russia.

Polling stations were scheduled to close at 10 p.m., and results were not expected to be announced until Monday afternoon. Organizers said they expected high turnout across the two regions of 6.5 million people.

The bloodshed in Krasnoarmeisk, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the regional capital, Donetsk, came hours after guardsmen broke up the voting outside the town hall and took control of the building.

In the evening, more guardsmen arrived in a van, and a scuffle broke out with people who were gathered around the building. Then the guardsmen fired shots.

An Associated Press photographer who witnessed the shooting said two people lay motionless on the ground. Insurgent leader Denis Pushilin was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying there were an unspecified number of deaths.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion.

Russia – which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula just days after voters there approved secession in a March referendum – has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the organizers of the latest referendums to delay the vote in an apparent attempt to ease the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents refused to heed his call.

“For us, the most important thing to show the legitimacy of the referendum is the amount of people who will vote,” said Denis Pushilin, a co-chairman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “But for now, we’re waiting for the official reaction, particularly from our brothers in Russia.”

Election organizers said turnout topped 70 percent by late afternoon, but with no international election monitors in place, it was all but impossible to confirm such claims.

At one polling station at a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that autonomy had been selected.

Most opponents of sovereignty appeared likely to stay away from the polls rather than risk drawing attention to themselves.

Darya, a 25-year-old medical worker who would not give her last name, said she saw no reason to cast a ballot, since the vote had no legal force.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

Although there were no immediate signs of any outright intimidation on Sunday and insurgents near the polls were not wearing their usual balaclavas, the regions have been on edge for weeks.

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the balloting would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said Liliya Bragina, 65. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after the polls opened because election officials failed to bring a ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nationwide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or in our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east have accused the new government of intending to trample the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Voters in eastern Ukraine lined up at the polls in a twin referendum on sovereignty for two heavily populated industrial regions Sunday, amid warnings from the central government that the balloting was illegal and was being bankrolled by Moscow.

The voting took a bloody turn when Ukrainian national guardsmen opened fire on a crowd outside a town hall in Krasnoarmeisk, and an official with the region’s insurgents said there were deaths. It was not immediately clear how many.

The shooting took place hours after dozens of guardsmen shut down the voting in the town.

At issue in the two referendums was the status of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, warned on Saturday that independence for eastern regions would destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” he said on the presidential website.

But the head of the referendum organizers in Donetsk said approval of the question wouldn’t immediately lead to attempts to split off from the country. He characterized the voting as an effort to show the central government that the largely Russian-speaking east has legitimate concerns.

“We want only to state our right to self-determination,” election commission head Roman Lyagin said. “After the announcement of the results, absolutely nothing will change in the status of the Donetsk region. We won’t stop being part of Ukraine. We won’t become part of Russia. We are just saying to the world that we want changes, we want to be heard.”

However, he said that the ultimate status of the region would be discussed later, and includes the possibility of secession or the seeking of annexation by Russia.

Polling stations were scheduled to close at 10 p.m., and results were not expected to be announced until Monday afternoon. Organizers said they expected high turnout across the two regions of 6.5 million people.

The bloodshed in Krasnoarmeisk, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the regional capital, Donetsk, came hours after guardsmen broke up the voting outside the town hall and took control of the building.

In the evening, more guardsmen arrived in a van, and a scuffle broke out with people who were gathered around the building. Then the guardsmen fired shots.

An Associated Press photographer who witnessed the shooting said two people lay motionless on the ground. Insurgent leader Denis Pushilin was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying there were an unspecified number of deaths.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion.

Russia – which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula just days after voters there approved secession in a March referendum – has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the organizers of the latest referendums to delay the vote in an apparent attempt to ease the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents refused to heed his call.

“For us, the most important thing to show the legitimacy of the referendum is the amount of people who will vote,” said Denis Pushilin, a co-chairman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “But for now, we’re waiting for the official reaction, particularly from our brothers in Russia.”

Election organizers said turnout topped 70 percent by late afternoon, but with no international election monitors in place, it was all but impossible to confirm such claims.

At one polling station at a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that autonomy had been selected.

Most opponents of sovereignty appeared likely to stay away from the polls rather than risk drawing attention to themselves.

Darya, a 25-year-old medical worker who would not give her last name, said she saw no reason to cast a ballot, since the vote had no legal force.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

Although there were no immediate signs of any outright intimidation on Sunday and insurgents near the polls were not wearing their usual balaclavas, the regions have been on edge for weeks.

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the balloting would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said Liliya Bragina, 65. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after the polls opened because election officials failed to bring a ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nationwide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or in our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east have accused the new government of intending to trample the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Voters in eastern Ukraine formed long lines at the polls in a twin referendum on sovereignty for two heavily populated industrial regions Sunday, amid warnings from the central government that the balloting was illegal and was being bankrolled by Moscow.

At issue was the status of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s acting president warned that independence for eastern regions would destroy the country’s economy.

“This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said on the presidential website Saturday.

But the head of the referendum organizers in Donetsk said approval of the question wouldn’t immediately lead to attempts to split off from the country. He characterized the voting as an effort to show the central government that the largely Russian-speaking east has legitimate concerns.

“We want only to state our right to self-determination,” election commission head Roman Lyagin said. “After the announcement of the results, absolutely nothing will change in the status of the Donetsk region. We won’t stop being part of Ukraine. We won’t become part of Russia. We are just saying to the world that we want changes, we want to be heard.”

However, he said that the ultimate status of the region would be discussed later, and includes the possibility of secession or the seeking of annexation by Russia.

Polling stations were scheduled to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT), and results were not expected to be announced until Monday afternoon.

There were reports of only sporadic clashes across the sprawling regions of 6.5 million people, and referendum organizers said they expected high turnout.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said a soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion.

Russia – which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula just days after voters there approved secession in a March referendum – has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the organizers of the latest referendums to delay the vote in an apparent attempt to ease the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents refused to heed his call.

“For us, the most important thing to show the legitimacy of the referendum is the amount of people who will vote,” said Denis Pushilin, a co-chairman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “But for now, we’re waiting for the official reaction, particularly from our brothers in Russia.”

Election organizers said turnout topped 70 percent by late afternoon, but with no international election monitors in place, it was all but impossible to confirm such claims.

At one polling station at a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that autonomy had been selected.

Most opponents of sovereignty appeared likely to stay away from the polls rather than risk drawing attention to themselves.

Darya, a 25-year-old medical worker who would not give her last name, said she saw no reason to cast a ballot, since the vote had no legal force.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

Although there were no immediate signs of any outright intimidation on Sunday and insurgents near the polls were not wearing their usual balaclavas, the regions have been on edge for weeks.

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the balloting would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said Liliya Bragina, 65. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after the polls opened because election officials failed to bring a ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nationwide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or in our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east have accused the new government of intending to trample the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Voters in eastern Ukraine formed long lines at the polls in a twin referendum on sovereignty for two heavily populated industrial regions Sunday, amid warnings from the central government that the balloting was illegal and was being bankrolled by Moscow.

At issue was the status of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s acting president warned that independence for eastern regions would destroy the country’s economy.

“This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said on the presidential website Saturday.

But the head of the referendum organizers in Donetsk said approval of the question wouldn’t immediately lead to attempts to split off from the country. He characterized the voting as an effort to show the central government that the largely Russian-speaking east has legitimate concerns.

“We want only to state our right to self-determination,” election commission head Roman Lyagin said. “After the announcement of the results, absolutely nothing will change in the status of the Donetsk region. We won’t stop being part of Ukraine. We won’t become part of Russia. We are just saying to the world that we want changes, we want to be heard.”

However, he said that the ultimate status of the region would be discussed later, and includes the possibility of secession or the seeking of annexation by Russia.

Polling stations were scheduled to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT), and results were not expected to be announced until Monday afternoon.

There were reports of only sporadic clashes across the sprawling regions of 6.5 million people, and referendum organizers said they expected high turnout.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said a soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion.

Russia – which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula just days after voters there approved secession in a March referendum – has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the organizers of the latest referendums to delay the vote in an apparent attempt to ease the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents refused to heed his call.

“For us, the most important thing to show the legitimacy of the referendum is the amount of people who will vote,” said Denis Pushilin, a co-chairman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “But for now, we’re waiting for the official reaction, particularly from our brothers in Russia.”

Election organizers said turnout topped 70 percent by late afternoon, but with no international election monitors in place, it was all but impossible to confirm such claims.

At one polling station at a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that autonomy had been selected.

Most opponents of sovereignty appeared likely to stay away from the polls rather than risk drawing attention to themselves.

Darya, a 25-year-old medical worker who would not give her last name, said she saw no reason to cast a ballot, since the vote had no legal force.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

Although there were no immediate signs of any outright intimidation on Sunday and insurgents near the polls were not wearing their usual balaclavas, the regions have been on edge for weeks.

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the balloting would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said Liliya Bragina, 65. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after the polls opened because election officials failed to bring a ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nationwide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or in our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east have accused the new government of intending to trample the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities from the insurgents.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents in eastern Ukraine formed long queues at polling stations Sunday to cast their votes in hastily organized independence referendums, defying the central government which called the ballots illegal and funded by neighboring Russia.

The votes seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president warned that independence for eastern regions would destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million and referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling.

The port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov also has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died. Long lines of voters were seen in the city’s streets.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

“For us, the most important thing to show the legitimacy of the referendum is the amount of people who will vote,” said Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “But for now, we’re waiting for the official reaction, particularly from our brothers in Russia.”

Election organizers said more than 30 percent of voters cast ballots in the first three hours of voting, but with no international oversight mission in attendance, confirming such claims is likely to be all but impossible.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Darya, a 25-year old medical worker who refused to give her last name, said she saw no reason to cast ballot as the vote had no legal force anyway.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said while walking her dachshund. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the ballot would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said Liliya Bragina, 65. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the northern fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after polls opened as election officials had failed to bring in the ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape. Outside the polling station, set up in a village club, one local man complained volubly over the quality of the ballot box as cows basked in the bright sunshine.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nation-wide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or for our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Turchynov’s chief of staff, Serhiy Pashynskyi, pledged Sunday that the government would seek to avoid further civilian casualties. “We will not engage in street fights in Slovyansk or elsewhere because that will lead to dozens of unnecessary deaths,” he told reporters.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents in eastern Ukraine formed long queues at polling stations Sunday to cast their votes in hastily organized independence referendums, defying the central government which called the ballots illegal and funded by neighboring Russia.

The votes seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president warned that independence for eastern regions would destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million and referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling.

The port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov also has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died. Long lines of voters were seen in the city’s streets.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

“For us, the most important thing to show the legitimacy of the referendum is the amount of people who will vote,” said Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “But for now, we’re waiting for the official reaction, particularly from our brothers in Russia.”

Election organizers said more than 30 percent of voters cast ballots in the first three hours of voting, but with no international oversight mission in attendance, confirming such claims is likely to be all but impossible.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Darya, a 25-year old medical worker who refused to give her last name, said she saw no reason to cast ballot as the vote had no legal force anyway.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said while walking her dachshund. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the ballot would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said Liliya Bragina, 65. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the northern fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after polls opened as election officials had failed to bring in the ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape. Outside the polling station, set up in a village club, one local man complained volubly over the quality of the ballot box as cows basked in the bright sunshine.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nation-wide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or for our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Turchynov’s chief of staff, Serhiy Pashynskyi, pledged Sunday that the government would seek to avoid further civilian casualties. “We will not engage in street fights in Slovyansk or elsewhere because that will lead to dozens of unnecessary deaths,” he told reporters.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents in eastern Ukraine formed long queues at polling stations Sunday to cast their votes in hastily organized independence referendums, defying the central government which called the ballots illegal and funded by neighboring Russia.

The votes seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president warned that independence for eastern regions would destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million and referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling.

The port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov also has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died. Long lines of voters were seen in the city’s streets.

The Ukrainian government and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

“For us, the most important thing to show the legitimacy of the referendum is the amount of people who will vote,” said Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “But for now, we’re waiting for the official reaction, particularly from our brothers in Russia.”

Election organizers said more than 30 percent of voters cast ballots in the first three hours of voting, but with no international oversight mission in attendance, confirming such claims is likely to be all but impossible.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Darya, a 25-year old medical worker who refused to give her last name, said she saw no reason to cast ballot as the vote had no legal force anyway.

“There were no notices about this referendum anywhere, about where and when it was happening,” she said while walking her dachshund. “In any case, it is not valid, so there was no reason to take part.”

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the ballot would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said Liliya Bragina, 65. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the northern fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after polls opened as election officials had failed to bring in the ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape. Outside the polling station, set up in a village club, one local man complained volubly over the quality of the ballot box as cows basked in the bright sunshine.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nation-wide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or for our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Turchynov’s chief of staff, Serhiy Pashynskyi, pledged Sunday that the government would seek to avoid further civilian casualties. “We will not engage in street fights in Slovyansk or elsewhere because that will lead to dozens of unnecessary deaths,” he told reporters.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency defied the central government in Kiev by voting Sunday in contentious and hastily organized independence referendums.

The ballots, which Ukraine and the West have rejected as illegal, seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where rebels have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president has said that independence for eastern regions will destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). Referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout, even though the security situation remained unstable around much of the area where the vote was held.

There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million as voting got under way.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling near Slovyansk TV tower.

And the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

Election officials said more than 30 percent of voters cast ballots in the first three hours of voting. With no international oversight mission in attendance, confirming such claims is likely to be all but impossible.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the vote would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said the 65-year old Liliya Bragina. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The polling station’s head, Andrei Mamontov, said he was certain the vote would be fair and not marred by falsification.

“In this polling station, everything will be fine, but I can’t speak for other polling stations,” he said. “We have prepared everything, we have signed everything, we have done all the checks – everything should be legitimate and clean.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the northern fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after polls opened as election officials had failed to bring in the ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape. Outside the polling station, set up in a village club, one local man complained volubly over the quality of the ballot box as cows basked in the bright sunshine.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nation-wide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or for our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Ukraine’s interim president said supporters of independence for the east “don’t understand that this would be a complete destruction of the economy, social programs and general life for the majority of the population.”

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Turchynov’s chief of staff Serhiy Pashynskyi pledged Sunday that the government would seek to avoid further civilian casualties. “We will not engage in street fights in Slovyansk or elsewhere because that will lead to dozens of unnecessary deaths,” he told reporters.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency defied the central government in Kiev by voting Sunday in contentious and hastily organized independence referendums.

The ballots, which Ukraine and the West have rejected as illegal, seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where rebels have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president has said that independence for eastern regions will destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). Referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout, even though the security situation remained unstable around much of the area where the vote was held.

There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million as voting got under way.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling near Slovyansk TV tower.

And the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

Election officials said more than 30 percent of voters cast ballots in the first three hours of voting. With no international oversight mission in attendance, confirming such claims is likely to be all but impossible.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the vote would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said the 65-year old Liliya Bragina. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The polling station’s head, Andrei Mamontov, said he was certain the vote would be fair and not marred by falsification.

“In this polling station, everything will be fine, but I can’t speak for other polling stations,” he said. “We have prepared everything, we have signed everything, we have done all the checks – everything should be legitimate and clean.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the northern fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after polls opened as election officials had failed to bring in the ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape. Outside the polling station, set up in a village club, one local man complained volubly over the quality of the ballot box as cows basked in the bright sunshine.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nation-wide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or for our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Ukraine’s interim president said supporters of independence for the east “don’t understand that this would be a complete destruction of the economy, social programs and general life for the majority of the population.”

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Turchynov’s chief of staff Serhiy Pashynskyi pledged Sunday that the government would seek to avoid further civilian casualties. “We will not engage in street fights in Slovyansk or elsewhere because that will lead to dozens of unnecessary deaths,” he told reporters.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency defied the central government in Kiev by voting Sunday in contentious and hastily organized independence referendums.

The ballots, which Ukraine and the West have rejected as illegal, seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where rebels have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president has said that independence for eastern regions will destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). Referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout, even though the security situation remained unstable around much of the area where the vote was held.

There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million as voting got under way.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling near Slovyansk TV tower.

And the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

Election officials said more than 30 percent of voters cast ballots in the first three hours of voting. With no international oversight mission in attendance, confirming such claims is likely to be all but impossible.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Many of those who did vote said they hoped the vote would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said the 65-year old Liliya Bragina. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The polling station’s head, Andrei Mamontov, said he was certain the vote would be fair and not marred by falsification.

“In this polling station, everything will be fine, but I can’t speak for other polling stations,” he said. “We have prepared everything, we have signed everything, we have done all the checks – everything should be legitimate and clean.”

The haphazard nature of the referendums was in full display at Spartak, a leafy village on the northern fringes of Donetsk.

Villagers were unable to vote for about three hours after polls opened as election officials had failed to bring in the ballot box.

After some arguing between local people and the head of the village council, an election organizer arrived with a voting urn crudely fashioned from cardboard boxes and sealed with tape. Outside the polling station, set up in a village club, one local man complained volubly over the quality of the ballot box as cows basked in the bright sunshine.

Most present said they were voting in favor of autonomy and against the interim government. One said she would not take part in a nation-wide presidential election set for May 25.

“I don’t agree with what is happening in the country. And I want some changes for the better. What is happening on May 25 is not honest, truthful or for our best interests. And that is why I am voting today,” said Irina Zelyonova, 30, cradling her baby in her arms.

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Ukraine’s interim president said supporters of independence for the east “don’t understand that this would be a complete destruction of the economy, social programs and general life for the majority of the population.”

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Turchynov’s chief of staff Serhiy Pashynskyi pledged Sunday that the government would seek to avoid further civilian casualties. “We will not engage in street fights in Slovyansk or elsewhere because that will lead to dozens of unnecessary deaths,” he told reporters.

Mark Rachkevych in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency cast votes Sunday in contentious and hastily organized independence referendums, which have been rejected as illegal by the Ukrainian government and the West.

The ballots seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where rebels have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president has said that independence for eastern regions will destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). Referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout, even though the security situation remained unstable around much of the area where the vote was held.

There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million as voting got under way.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling near Slovyansk TV tower.

And the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Many voters said they hoped the vote would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said the 65-year old Liliya Bragina. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The polling station’s head, Andrei Mamontov, said he was certain the vote would be fair and not marred by falsification.

“In this polling station, everything will be fine, but I can’t speak for other polling stations,” he said. “We have prepared everything, we have signed everything, we have done all the checks – everything should be legitimate and clean.”

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Ukraine’s interim president said supporters of independence for the east “don’t understand that this would be a complete destruction of the economy, social programs and general life for the majority of the population.”

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev. Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency cast votes Sunday in contentious and hastily organized independence referendums, which have been rejected as illegal by the Ukrainian government and the West.

The ballots seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where rebels have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president has said that independence for eastern regions will destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). Referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout, even though the security situation remained unstable around much of the area where the vote was held.

There were reports of sporadic clashes, but the situation remained calm in most of the sprawling regions with a population of 6.5 million as voting got under way.

Insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said an army soldier was wounded in a mortar shelling near Slovyansk TV tower.

And the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Although election officials in Donetsk have said they are certain that turnout will be high, it seems likely that most of those opposed to autonomy will decline to participate.

Many voters said they hoped the vote would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said the 65-year old Liliya Bragina. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The polling station’s head, Andrei Mamontov, said he was certain the vote would be fair and not marred by falsification.

“In this polling station, everything will be fine, but I can’t speak for other polling stations,” he said. “We have prepared everything, we have signed everything, we have done all the checks – everything should be legitimate and clean.”

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Ukraine’s interim president said supporters of independence for the east “don’t understand that this would be a complete destruction of the economy, social programs and general life for the majority of the population.”

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev. Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.

Ukraine regions hold sovereignty vote

KDWN

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Residents of two restive regions in eastern Ukraine engulfed by a pro-Russian insurgency cast ballots Sunday in contentious and hastily organized independence referendums, which have been rejected as illegal by the Ukrainian government and the West.

The ballots seek approval for declaring so-called sovereign people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where rebels have seized government buildings and clashed with police and Ukrainian troops over the past month.

Ukraine’s interim president has said that independence for eastern regions will destroy the country’s economy. “This is a step into the abyss for the regions,” Oleksandr Turchynov said in comments posted on the presidential website Saturday.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). Referendum organizers said they expected a high turnout, even though the security situation remained unstable around much of the area where the vote was held.

There were no reports of fighting as voting got under way, but insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, which has seen some of the most violent clashes between pro-Russian militants and government forces in recent weeks, exchanged fire with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the city overnight. And the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has remained on edge after Friday’s clashes, in which at least seven died.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting or even directing the unrest in the east, with the goal of destabilizing Ukraine or finding a pretext for invasion. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had asked the referendums’ organizers to delay the vote as he bargained with Western powers on conditions for defusing the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War. The insurgents, however, have refused to heed his call.

At one polling station in a school in Donetsk, turnout was brisk in the first hour of voting. All voting slips that could be seen in the clear ballot boxes showed that the option for autonomy had been selected.

Many voters said they hoped the vote would help stabilize the situation.

“I just don’t have the words to express what is happening in our country,” said the 65-year old Liliya Bragina. “I have come so that there will be stability, so that there will be peace.”

The polling station’s head, Andrei Mamontov, said he was certain the vote would be fair and not marred by falsification.

“In this polling station, everything will be fine, but I can’t speak for other polling stations,” he said. “We have prepared everything, we have signed everything, we have done all the checks – everything should be legitimate and clean.”

The hastily arranged ballots are similar to the March referendum in Crimea that approved secession from Ukraine. Crimea was formally annexed by Russia days later.

But organizers of Sunday’s vote have said that only later will a decision be made on whether they would use their nominal sovereignty to seek full independence, absorption by Russia or to stay part of Ukraine but with expanded power for the regions.

Surveys by polling companies have indicated that a significant majority of people in Ukraine reject movements to break away parts of the country.

Ukraine’s interim president said supporters of independence for the east “don’t understand that this would be a complete destruction of the economy, social programs and general life for the majority of the population.”

Turchynov and Ukraine’s caretaker government came to power in February following the ouster of Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych after months of protests in Kiev. Moscow and many in Ukraine’s east denounce the new government as a nationalist junta and allege that it intends to trample on the rights of eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.

More than 30 people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began mounting offensives to retake some eastern cities now under control of the insurgents.