Election Under Threat in Eastern Ukraine

Prime minister says election will be triumph for Ukraine against Russian aggression, while insurgents in east seize election commissions offices in bid to derail vote.

Election worker, Ukraine, May 24, 2014.
An election worker from the district election commission caries ballot papers next to a map of Donetsk's region in the eastern Ukrainian town of Dobropillya on May 24, 2014. AFP

Ukraine's interim prime minister urged people to take part in what he said would be a clean and fair presidential election on Sunday that would be a triumph before the world against Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian insurgents have prevented at least half of the election districts in the embattled east of the country to prepare for the elections, a Ukrainian official says.

Volodymyr Hrinyak, chief of the public security department at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said Saturday that 17 out of 34 district election commissions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are not operating because their offices have either been seized or blocked by armed men. Hrinyak's update was reported by the Interfax news agency.

In a statement on Saturday, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told Ukrainians they had a responsibility to vote, for the future of their children, and assured those in rebel-held eastern regions that "bandits won't be terrorizing your area for much longer."

"Tomorrow we will demonstrate to the whole world, but above all to ourselves, that we cannot be intimidated," said Yatseniuk, who took power in February following the overthrow of the previous elected president, Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych.

He avoided mention of any candidate - campaigning is banned until voting ends.

But said he was sure the winner would make a priority of signing up to a closer alliance with the European Union - a move which Yanukovych rejected in November, triggering months of protests in Kiev that ended when he fled to Russia.

Polls show almost certain victory, possibly outright in the first round, for confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko, a former government minister who backed the pro-Western protests.

"We will definitely have a legitimately elected president who will make his first visit to the capital of united Europe and sign the document on a free trade zone with the European Union," said Yatseniuk, who has secured EU and U.S. support and angered Moscow which denounced Yanukovych's ousting as a coup.

"The newly elected president will receive from the Ukrainian people a mandate for a determined and unstoppable movement away from the grey zone of lawlessness and dark forces that dream of suffocating us and into an area of free people, rallied around common values - to a place where it is easier to breathe."