Divided Ukraine votes under shadow of war

People cast votes as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to media in a polling station in Kiev on Sunday, during Ukraine's Parliamentary elections.

People cast votes as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to media in a polling station in Kiev on Sunday, during Ukraine’s Parliamentary elections.

KIEV: A divided Ukraine voted Sunday in parliamentary elections expected to back President Petro Poroshenko’s pro-Western reforms and test support for his plan to negotiate with pro-Russian insurgents threatening to break up the country.

Reformers and nationalists supporting a drive to steer Ukraine out of Russia’s sphere of influence were expected to dominate. The Petro Poroshenko Bloc was forecasted to be the biggest party, although needing partners to form a ruling coalition.

“Today we have a new Ukraine,” Poroshenko said after voting in the capital Kiev. “I hope it will be possible to form a strong, pro-European democratic coalition.” The snap election came eight months after a street revolt overthrew Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, sparking conflict with Russia and a crisis in relations between the Kremlin and Ukraine’s Western allies.

Sunday’s election was meant to clear out the last vestiges of the Yanukovych regime.

But the war with pro-Russian rebels in the industrial east, in which 3,700 people have died, and Russia’s earlier annexation of the southern Crimean region, cast a long shadow. Voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk provinces — about five million of Ukraine’s 36.5 million-strong electorate — were unable to cast ballots.

Even 25,000 soldiers deployed in the war zone were shut out, Poroshenko said, blaming the outgoing parliament for failing to make provisions.

Twenty seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty.

Dressed in camouflage, Poroshenko helicoptered in for a surprise visit to Kramatorsk, a government-held town in the heart of the conflict zone.

The dramatic gesture was clearly meant to show that the beleaguered region has not been forgotten.

“Today on territory liberated by Ukrainian servicemen they will vote for the European future of our country,” Poroshenko said in nationally televised remarks.

However, the disenfranchisement of the separatist areas and Crimea seemed likely to further cement the once peaceful, now bloody faultline between Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west.


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