Andriy, a young entrepreneur from Slovyansk, won’t be voting in this weekend’s presidential election for fear masked gunmen who’ve taken over the small Ukrainian city will slay anyone who dares try. Separatists intent on abandoning Ukraine for Russia want to torpedo the ballot and have overrun half of the electoral offices in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, together known as Donbas. Tactics include abducting voting officials and issuing death threats, the Electoral Commission says. Thirteen servicemen died yesterday amid a push to repel the militants. “You can be killed for showing a position that’s different from them,” said Andriy, who asked that only his first name be used for fear of reprisals. “People have been killed here just because they brought some food to Ukrainian soldiers.”
Ukraine’s interim government, whose legitimacy is rejected by Russia, is pinning its hopes on the May 25 election producing an undisputed successor to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. While Russia has denied accusations it’s instigating the separatist unrest, the U.S. and the European Union say they’ll stiffen sanctions should the ballot be disrupted.
At the heart of the insurgency is Slovyansk, where some residents fume that the pro-European movement that toppled Donbas native Yanukovych is ignoring their interests. The Kiev revolt preceded the violence that’s spread to 15 cities and left dozens dead.