05/12/2014, 00.00
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East Ukraine chooses independence and waits for Moscow’s acknowledgment

by Nina Achmatova
The preliminary results of the "referendum" show 89% vote "yes" and a turnout of over 75 %. The Kremlin must now express its position. Voting also took place in a polling station in Moscow, an implicit signal of Russian support despite Putin 's appeal for a postponement .

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Although officially there is still only provisional data, there is already talk of the controversial referendum on independence from Kiev in the Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, in eastern Ukraine, scene of clashes between regular army and separatist militias.

In polls closed on the evening of 11 May , the president of the electoral commission of the self-declared republic of Donetsk , Roman Liaghin, announced 89.07 % of the votes were "yes" , compared to 10.19 % "no". The pro-Russian leader proclaimed that the turnout was a "record"  (75 %); this data was the most anticipated given that Moscow will base its position on this figure.  The West had already branded the  popular consultation as "illegal".

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov , has hinted Russia's support for the vote even though Putin had "recommended" it be postponed . In an interview with Kommersant, the spokesman said: "Even taking into account the credibility of the President of the Russian Federation, his advice was barely audible, given the very real fighting taking place, residents are forced to act on the basis of the situation on the ground".

What is of even greater significance - although of no legal value - was the fact that people were also able to cast their votes in the referendum in Moscow, in a makeshift polling station on Kievskaya street, with photocopied election cards, wobbly tables and the total absence of electoral lists. The initiative promoted by some of those who call themselves the new "representatives" of the republics of Russia in Donetsk and Lugansk, but in all probability it also had the unofficial approval of authorities.

Andrei Kramar and his colleague Aleksei Muratov - both engineers living in Russia but from eastern Ukrainian - claim to have organized the polling station in Moscow , "in agreement" with the Central Election Commissions of the two separatist regions and "without any help from the Kremlin". "We are all ordinary people here , what you see is only the work of volunteers and without any coordination with the authorities", they repeated like a chant . Outside the polling station, however, there were dozens of police, an ambulance, two metal detectors , a score of Cossacks and a row of portable toilets specially assembled for the event.

In a country where every public event that gathers more than one person is strictly controlled, the queues of thousands of Ukrainians who, passport in hand and shouting "Glory to the Donbass " , waited for their turn in front of the polls.  None of this would not be possible without the support of political leaders.

The Central Election Commission of the self- Republic of Donetsk has already said , however, that the outcome of the vote outside Ukraine will not count "as this will invalidate the referendum" which required voters to be residents in the east of the country. Notably, though the many of the Ukrainians construction workers, drivers, housekeepers and cooks who voted yesterday in Moscow "for the future " of their country, were unaware of this.

39 year old teacher Serghei, who brough his family from Kramatorsk to Moscow two weeks ago, was certain: "Now we are voting for independence, but the next step is to become part of the Russia federation," he says as he leaves the polling station, finding a wide consensus among those present. few seem to know exactly what they are actually voting for: independence, autonomy or federalism. The question put to the voters left room for different interpretations and the media propaganda , from both sides of the barricades, has not helped to clarify the doubts .

The referendum - held in the midst of ongoing fighting between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian militias that still occupy several cities in the eastern region, without observers and a high possibility of fraud - was immediately called a "farce" by  Kiev. As the Economist points out, even if the voting were staged , the people who went to the polls "are real". "Their frustrations, their fears, their confusion and their anger for years and years of corrupt governments are real".  Just as the violence that continues to unfold in the Donbas is real, the metallurgical - mining basin of Ukraine, home to the military industry that is worth 20% of the national GDP  . Meanwhile , rumors about the possibility of a return vote on May 18, but this time for union with Russia, are becoming more insistent, and now all eyes are focused on the Kremlin.


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