Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine hold controversial leadership elections on Sunday which Kiev and the west have refused to recognise and which threaten to deepen the international crisis over the conflict. Fighting raged across the region on the eve of the vote, with seven Ukrainian fighters killed and intensive shelling at the ruins of Donetsk airport, a key battleground between the rebels and government forces. The elections in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic, which are based around the two main rebel-held cities, are designed to bring a degree of legitimacy to the makeshift military regimes that already control them. Both are choosing new presidents and parliaments, but there is little question that the current unelected rebel leaders – Aleksandr Zakharchenko in Donetsk and Igor Plotnitsky in Lugansk – will be confirmed in their posts.
No international election monitors will be present for the vote, and no minimum turnout has been set by the organisers, reflecting the uncertainty over how many voters will bother turning out.
“These elections are important because they will give legitimacy to our power and give us more distance from Kiev,” said Roman Lyagin, the election commission chief of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
Russia, which denies fomenting the rebellion but clearly maintains close links to the separatists, has stated it will recognise the election results.