Russian Roulette – Part 42
Bullets, not ballots in Donetsk.
Almost six months since the euromaidan revolution started, Ukrainians went to the polls to elect a new president in the midst of an anti terror operation to wrestle Donetsk and Luganks Oblasts back under Kiev's control.
The separatists of the Donetsk Peoples Republic threatened the election in the region and stormed a number of electoral commissions, intimidating electoral workers. In response, the Ukrainian military alongside it's pro-Ukrainian paramilitary proxies have been working to secure towns across Donetsk to ensure that a safe election could take place. On Friday – two days before the election – one of those paramilitary groups, the Donbas Battalion, were ambushed in the town of Karlovka by rebel forces, leaving an unknown number of Donbas fighters dead and wounded, bullet riddled cars and burning buildings in their wake.
On Sunday morning, Donetsk itself saw no voting so VICE News headed out to Krasnoarmiisk where voting was happening under the watchful eye of local, loyal-to-Kiev police and another paramilitary force, the Dinipro Battalion.
Back in Donetsk, supporters of the DPR held a rally in the square, denouncing the election and the other DPR bugbears – NATO, the Kiev "junta" and the US. In the midst of the speeches, the Vostok Battalion – a DPR militia – arrived on APCs and flatbed trucks to a heroes' welcome with the crowd handing the fighters cash, flowers and showering them with hugs and awkward kisses. Amongst the Vostok there were a number of fighters who claimed to be muslim Chechens, there to fight to protect "Russian speakers".
The crowd of around 1,500 supporters then moved on to Rinat Akhmetov's residence on the edge of the city. The crowd were angry that Akhmetov – the Ukraine's richest man and Donetsk oblast native – had denounced the DPR and had actively tried to ensure the election would go ahead. However, DPR gunmen refused to let the crowd storm the gates, due to the fear of a firefight breaking out between the DPR and Akhmetov's security. Eventually the heat took it's toll as apparent negotiations between DPR officials and those inside dragged on. The crowd started to thin.
With only a few hours left to vote, we headed to Mariupol in the south. Thanks to a number of new checkpoints along the road we missed the vote by three minutes but according to one of the local electoral commissioners, the vote went ahead smoothly.
Early exit polls suggested Petro Poroshenko, the so-called "chocolate king" had won the vote with around 56 percent with former prime minister Yulia Tymoschenko trailing behind in second with around 12 percent. The far-right Right Sector candidate, Dmytro Yarosh could only muster 0.9 percent, helping to dispel the DPR propaganda that supporters of the Kiev government are all fascists.