A Pro-Russian militant smokes a cigarette during a briefing at a check-point on the road between Donetsk and Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, on May 25, 2014. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI
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The election marks the culmination of a revolution that erupted last November, forced a pro-Russian president to flee in February and spiralled into an existential crisis since March when Moscow responded by declaring its right to invade Ukraine.In the Russian-speaking eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, where pro-Moscow fighters have proclaimed independent "people's republics", men with guns succeeded in blocking a vote that would imply their regions are still part of Ukraine.Putin, who branded eastern Ukraine "New Russia" last month, has made more accommodating noises of late, saying on Saturday he would respect the voters' will.European election monitors have largely pulled out of the Donetsk region for their own safety, citing a campaign of "terror" by the pro-Russian separatists against Ukrainian electoral officials.Ukrainians hope the vote can help because Moscow could not so quickly dismiss an elected leader with a solid mandate.Their response to Russian interference in Ukraine so far has been limited to freezing the assets of a few dozen Russian individuals and small firms. But they have threatened to take far more serious measures, even targeting whole sectors of Russian industry, if Moscow interferes with the vote. Russia is fiercely opposed to Ukraine joining the Western military alliance.
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