A masked pro-Russian gunman wearing a ribbon of Saint George guards at a check-point near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on May 23, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ VIKTOR DRACHEV
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Candidates in Ukraine's presidential election stayed out of the public eye on Saturday, observing a ban on campaigning on the eve of a vote that Kiev hopes can help end a bitter confrontation with Russia.On Friday, armed pro-Russian separatists and a Ukrainian militia group clashed in the east of Ukraine, leaving at least two dead. An attack on Ukrainian troops a day earlier killed 17 soldiers, officials have said. Kiev's pro-Western leaders hope Sunday's poll will stabilise the former Soviet republic after street protests toppled Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich and pro-Russian separatists responded by seizing Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. After Yanukovich's overthrow in February, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and stationed thousands of troops in combat readiness near the border with Ukraine as armed pro-Russian rebels took over strategic buildings in the east.On Friday, Moscow said it would pull back all forces from its border with Ukraine "within a few days", a move that, if carried out, could ease tensions around the election.The OSCE watchdog has sent a team of more than 1,000 observers to monitor an election in which Ukraine's leaders say they expect a huge turnout that will offset the loss of voters in annexed Crimea and separatist-controlled parts of the east.
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