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Eastern Ukraine Apparently Votes "Yes" to Joining Russia

Rebels claim that voters overwhelmingly chose "self-rule" in the hastily organized referendum in pockets of Eastern Ukraine.

by Harriet Salem
May 12 2014, 2:25pm

Photo via AP

Russia's president Vladimir Putin has called for a "civilized implementation" of the results of Sunday’s referendum on self-rule in the rebel-controlled pockets of eastern Ukraine. The government in Kiev, which is leading a bloody “anti-terrorist operation” against the region's pro-Russia militia, has denounced the vote as "a criminal farce soaked in blood." At least a dozen have died in fighting in the last week, including several civilians.

In the early hours of this morning shelling could be heard on the outskirts of Sloviansk, the rebels’ heartland, and automatic gunfire later rattled intermittently in the distance, but it was unclear which side was attacking which. All cell phone networks are down in the city.

A mortar attack was reported in the village of Andreevka, located on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk, on May 12 as clashes took place in the area. Video by Alexander Samantsov.

Shot were fired by armed men, alleged to be Ukrainian National Guard members, during a confrontation with a crowd that had gathered in the eastern Ukrainian city of Krasnoarmiysk on May 11. Video by Dmitry Boyko.

The final results of the ballot are expected later today. But the rebel leaders have already declared the vote an overwhelming success, claiming a turnout of 75 percent with the vast majority voting "yes." The hastily organized poll was not monitored by independent observers.

Watch all of VICE News' dispatches, Russian Roulette: The Invasion of Ukraine here.

In some places people queued outside polling stations but in others the stream of voters had dwindled to a trickle by the afternoon. In Mariupol, which was the scene of violent clashes between pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian army on Friday, there were only four polling stations open in a city with a population of 460,000.

It is not clear exactly what the "yes" vote means. The Russian word samostoyatelnost, which was used on the single-question voting slip, could be interpreted as meaning anything from full-blown secession to a more tepid form of federalization.

Polling stations across Donetsk and Luhansk opened for a referendum on the regions’ independence on May 11.

Moscow has said that the result must be implemented "without any recurrence of violence, through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk."

Eastern Ukrainians vote for a new uncertain future in rebel organized referendum. Read more here.

Last week Putin called on the rebels to postpone the referendum, which then went ahead anyway. The Russian president has adopted an increasingly diplomatic tone of late, fueling concern that he may be paving the way to send "peace-keeping" troops into the region. A Putin-backed putsch led to the annexation of Crimea by Moscow in March.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem

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