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'War situation' as rebels threaten vote in east Ukraine

Saturday, 24 May 2014 - 10:45pm IST | Place: Donetsk (Ukraine) | Agency: PTI

"We're in a war situation," says one of the deliverymen bringing ballot papers in under armed guard to a polling station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Dobropillya.

"There is more security this time," he adds.

Ukraine goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president, but pro-Russian separatists have threatened to disrupt the vote in towns and cities they control in the industrial east.

"We intend to make sure that voting does not take place here on our territory. If necessary we will revert to the use of force," said Denis Pushilin, a top leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

"We have the right to do so because our countrymen are dying here every day," he told reporters.

The Kiev authorities have warned they may not be able to ensure voting takes place across the east, where there are already numerous reports of militants intimidating election workers and seizing polling stations.

Security concerns have also been heightened after a deadly surge in violence this week, with well over two dozen people -- perhaps many more -- killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and the rebels.

In Dobropillya, the ballot papers arrived in a funeral van along with a security guard carrying an AK-47 rifle and were carried into the town hall basement by local election workers.

"The elections will definitely take place here," said Yelena Ganicheva, head of the election commission in Dopropillya, which lies some 100 kilometres from Donetsk and is under Kiev's control.

In a nearby village five members of the local commission sliced open the brown paper packaging and counted out ballot papers in an office of the Ukrainian cultural centre that will serve as the polling station.

"Everything is nearly ready and we just have to organise some transport for the elderly people," said polling station head Tetyana Dorozhkevich.

Just a few kilometres away Ukrainian soldiers lounged behind sandbags at a checkpoint where two tanks stood.

"We hope that everything will go ok," said Dorozhkevich.

"Whatever the situation is around us we hope we can have legally elected authorities who can return things to normal." Around the district covering some 80 polling stations almost all are planning to operate, except in separatist-controlled Druzhkivka where the election commission was disbanded.

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