Pro-Russian rebels in two regions of eastern Ukraine are voting in “self-rule” referendums.
Community leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk ignored calls from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Reports from Slovyansk claim pro-Russian militia clashed with Ukrainian troops on the outskirts of the town.
There is some confusion about exactly what people are voting for, one man explained his motive: “We want an independent republic. Other than that we don’t want anything…the difference is our own language, solving our own problems. Other than that we don’t want anything.”
Millions of ballot papers have been printed and pro-Russian activists are in control of the polling stations.
According to the Ukrainian news website Obozrevatel, security services say four people have been arrested near Slov yansk carrying weapons and thousands of ballot papers marked with “yes” votes.
The ballot is overshadowed by violence.
“There was shooting but that doesen’t scare us. We have suffered so much that we are not afraid of shooting. If we vote normally the shooting will stop and everything will be fine,” said one pro-Russian.
In Luhansk armed men loitered around the polling stations.
Valery Bolotov the self-proclaimed people’s governor in Luhansk spoke of the tensions in area: “Sources say there are 30 infantry vehicles and more than ten armored cars moving in our direction from the city of Starobilsk. The Kyiv authorities say the forces are moving towards the border of Ukraine and Russia to perform guard duties. But from their route, it’s obvious that they’re coming to lay siege to Luhansk.”
There are no international or independent observers present to oversee the ballot.
Ukraine’s acting President Olexander Turchynov has warned that the votes are a “step toward the abyss.”