Tight security is surrounding the build-up to Sunday’s separatist elections in eastern Ukraine.
The ballots are rejected as illegitimate by Kviv, the European Union and the United States but Russia says it will recognise the results.
Leaders and a parliament are being elected for the self-proclaimed ‘People’s Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk. Amid fighting in which over 3,700 people have died, pro-Russian rebels describe the voting as part of a process legitimising their breakaway from Kyiv.
Last month separatist authorities in Donetsk announced the creation of their own central bank and tax office, obliging residents to register under the Donetsk People’s Republic and pay taxes into its coffers rather than Kyiv’s.
The separatists took a symbolic step closer to Moscow by cancelling the winter change of clocks on October 26, putting them in Moscow’s time zone rather than on Kyiv time.
Other symbols are in the works such as the Culture Ministry holding a song contest to select a new national anthem.
Alongside pre-election photo-opportunities, Soviet-era nostalgia and promises of a better life with support from Moscow are being made.
Denis Pushilin, a leader of Donetsk’s rebel-run administration, told euronews: “If we get rid of the corruption and of the oligarchs’ influence and if we invest all these financial resources in the modernisation of our industries, we will increase the resources for social benefits and pensions.”
Sunday’s election comes a week after Ukraine held a parliamentary vote, won overwhelmingly by parties supporting President Petro Poroshenko’s drive for closer ties with Europe.
Rebel-held eastern districts did not participate and for teacher Dmitriy Alexandrovic, speaking to euronews at a Donetsk polling station, the outcome of this rival vote will be independence.
“We are trying to do our best to make this election possible. As you can see, we are preparing this place to let people make their choice,” he said.
Our correspondent in Donetsk, Sergio Cantone, said: “The election is being held with the echoes of war in the background despite a precarious ceasefire. It is also a huge symbol of the self-proclaimed republic’s desire to distance itself from the political will of the government in Kyiv.”