Militants disrupt voting as divided Ukraine goes to polls
Ukraine's next president looks likely to be chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko, as exit polls showed him winning 56pc of the vote.
The election has been marred by violence and intimidation in the east.
Initial exit polls showed an outright victory in the first round for Mr Poroshenko, a billionaire businessman and vocal advocate of European integration.
The poll gave 48-year-old Mr Poroshenko 55.9 per cent – well ahead of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in second place with 12.9 per cent. If confirmed by results today, this outcome would avert the need for a run-off vote next month.
But pro-Russian militants effectively prevented the election taking place in large swathes of the east of the country, putting the legitimacy of the poll into doubt.
One man died on Saturday after "armed separatists" seized ballot papers at Novoaydar, north of the regional capital Luhansk.
Polling stations opened at 8am in most of Ukraine, and initial signs suggested a high turn out for what has been described as the most important election in the country's post-Soviet history. By 3pm more than 40 per cent of the electorate had voted, the country's electoral commission said.
Casting his vote in a Kiev polling station yesterday, Mr Poroshenko said that the election would bring "peace" to Ukraine.
"I am confident that today's vote will finally help bring peace to Ukraine and stop the disorder, chaos, lawlessness and terror wrought by bandits in the east," he said. "The first thing we will do is begin direct dialogue with the people of the Donbass in Donetsk and Luhansk."
Russia has said it will respect the result of the election, but the failure of Kiev officials to deliver on a promise that the vote would go ahead in the turbulent east of the country may draw it legitimacy into question.
Not a single polling station opened in Donetsk, a city of nearly one million people and the capital of the region at the centre of the insurgency, despite promises by the regional governor the poll would go ahead.
Attempts to open polling stations elsewhere in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were stymied by the late delivery or complete absence of ballots, as well as instructions from the rebel leadership.
In the town of Dokuchaevsk, 17 miles south of Donetsk, polling stations tried to open before being warned to close their doors by rebel officials.
"The ballot papers arrived late, so we were planning to open at 10. But at 9.30 a man arrived and presented ID from the Donetsk People's Republic and told us not to. So we didn't," said an election commissioner at the town's deserted School No. 4.
The visitor did not carry a gun or wear camouflage, but he hadn't needed to.
"It was an entirely peaceful request, but there was a certain understanding that it might not be if we did not comply," said the official, who declined to be named.
At least one polling station in the town was occupied and its doors locked from the inside by unidentified persons.
"My own polling station was closed so I came here hoping to vote. And it turns out I can't. We need to have this election because we need a government to put an end to the chaos and violence here," said one local woman who was turned away.
The only city where voting went ahead more or less unmolested was Mariupol, a steel town on the south coast where street patrols by workers from steel plants controlled by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov have restored a semblance of order.
Election officials at two polling stations there said had seen a slow but steady stream of voters from early morning, although they admitted some of their staff had failed to show up, and at least one polling station failed to open at all because of an absence of officials.
"I came to vote because it is my civil duty. I am a citizen of Ukraine and a patriot," said Natalia, a local who cast her ballot in the afternoon.
The vote came after one of the bloodiest weeks of violence since the pro-Russian uprising began in the regions.
An Italian journalist and his translator were killed in fighting in the rebel-held town of Slavyansk on Saturday night.
Later in the day rebel leaders said Mr Akhmetov had agreed to negotiations about his future after a pro-separatist crowd marched on his residence in Donetsk. The crowd, which was policed by rebel gunmen, did not force its way in to the property. (© Daily Telegraph, London)