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Russian Roulette (Dispatch 38)

Detained in Donetsk on Referendum Day.

On Sunday, a referendum was finally held by the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine on whether to declare independence. Polling stations were set up all over the city. With no independent monitors present, the DPR used locals to ensure that the vote was free and fair — a provision that hardly inspired confidence.

VICE News correspondent Henry Langston visited Donetsk to witness the ballot and ask people what they were voting for, but he and his crew quickly ran afoul of masked gunmen who were patrolling the station. They forced the crew inside the occupied administration building, where they were detained, searched, and interrogated for three hours before being allowed to leave. The experience offered some indication of what press freedom in the DPR would look like should it ever become independent.

Preliminary results announced around midnight showed a voter turnout of 74 percent, of which 89 percent voted yes. While seemingly suspect, the results were cheered by the DPR, which declared itself an independent state on Monday. But people are unsure of what the future holds for the separatist ambitions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Just last month, a poll showed that only 18 percent of people in eastern Ukraine wanted independence. With the Ukrainian government refusing to recognize the referendum and Russia backing its result, the next few days could prove pivotal for the entire region.

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