Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine say preliminary results of a contentious referendum show nearly 90 per cent of voters have supported sovereignty for their region. Roman Lyagin, election chief of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic, said around 75 per cent of the region’s 3 million voters cast ballots Sunday. With no independent observers monitoring the vote, however, verifying the figures will prove problematic. 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 yesterday the Foreign Ministry called the twin referendums a “criminal farce.”
The US and other Western governments have branded the balloting a violation of international law and said they won’t recognise the outcome.
The results were not expected to be announced until this afternoon. Organisers predicted high turnout across the two industrial regions, which have a combined population of 6.5 million.