From a cramped office in residential Donetsk, election officials were frantically working on Sunday to prepare for Ukraine’s May 25 presidential poll, despite what they described as intimidation and threats from pro-Russian separatists. By Monday morning, their resolve broken, they had shut down their office. “We’re not working out of safety concerns,” said Volodymyr Klotsky, a member of election commission no. 43, adding that he and his colleagues had reluctantly taken the decision after “terrorists” had seized the offices of another voting commission nearby. Klotsky’s commission had been the last of five such election bodies opened up in the eastern Ukrainian city, an industrial hub of about 1 million, which is now the centre of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. The separatists’ revolt, fuelled by heady Russian propaganda, was focused at several points in the east following the overthrow of the Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich and the annexation by Russia of Crimea. Nonetheless, electoral authorities had set up Klotsky and others like him to do their best to prepare for an election that Kiev’s pro-Western rulers hope will legitimize government after the street revolt that forced Yanukovich to flee to Russia.
With most of Donetsk’s strategic points in separatist hands, this had always been a distant hope in this part of Ukraine. The predicament of Klotsky and his colleagues is further evidence of the separatists’ determination to disrupt the election.
Speaking on Sunday before the decision to shut up shop, Klotsky said unknown men had appeared in his office twice in the past two weeks, stealing computers and threatening staff if they did not leave.
“We fear only one thing,” Klotsky said then.
“It is the interference of these people, who have grabbed the region by force, who have placed checkpoints around the city to protect it from something. We are worried that either tomorrow, either now, either on election day, they will come and stop our work physically,” he said.