As Ukrainian troops battled with separatist forces for control of the Donetsk International Airport, residents in the Donbas struggled to make sense of confectionary billionaire Petro Poroshenko’s landslide victory in the May 25 presidential election.
Although some explained that they had no political opinions other than a desire for peace and security, many citizens of eastern Ukraine expressed concern to the Kyiv Post that Poroshenko’s victory has not resolved the political and military crisis that has gripped the region since April.
Many people who spoke to the Kyiv Post refused to be identified by their surnames, fearing reprisals either from pro-Russian separatists or pro-Ukrainian forces.
“Nothing good is coming our way.” said Alina, 53, flatly, as she watered flower beds in the long shadow of the Donetsk Regional Administration Building, which separatists have declared the headquarters of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic."
When asked who she considers to be the rightful president of Ukraine, Alina responded, “Viktor Yanukovych," referring to the deposed president before returning to her seedlings. "No, just kidding.”
Alina said she wasn’t able to vote in the election because no polling stations in Donetsk were open on May 25, due to threats of violence from pro-Russian separatists.
Yulia, a mother and native of Donetsk, said she wouldn’t have voted even if she had been able to. “There weren’t any candidates for us to vote for,” she told the Kyiv Post while watching her son play in a city park.
Yulia was cautious with her answer when asked about whether Poroshenko is the legitimate president of Ukraine. “Well, probably, yes,” she said, but with a caveat. “Still, it would have been better for us to push for federalization in this election as well.”
The majority of Ukrainians in Luhansk Oblast, too, were either not able to vote or ignored the elections. Only 85,000 people cast their ballots in Luhansk on May 25, just 5 percent of registered voters.
But the majority of those who did vote chose Poroshenko, hoping that a first-round victory would help restore peace in Ukraine.
Vasyl Tsymbal, 55, a retired policeman from Svatovo, a Ukrainians stronghold, said that he doesn't like Poroshenko but voted for him in the hopes that the first round would be decisive.
"Poroshenko is not a good choice. We need someone really new and young. But the other candidates on the list weren't any better," he said. "Still, I'm glad the elections were over after one round because I hope it will help to bring us peace here."
But in Luhansk, Lysychansk and other cities controlled by separatists, peace doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.
On May 25, insurgents announced an additional mobilization for the fight against Ukrainian troops. The “Army of the Southeast,” whose members formed the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Luhansk, called retired officers of the Ukrainian and Soviet Army to join them on May 25.
In Donetsk, separatist violence escalated, as the Ukrainian army launched air strikes on Donetsk’s only airport, which separatists had taken control of in the early morning hours. Separatists refused to cede the building, instead digging in to defend their positions.
The violence soon spread beyond the confines of the airport, spilling into residential neighborhoods. One man, a parking attendant, was killed by a stray bullet at the city’s train station, which is situated more than a kilometer from the airport.
In the city center, uncertainty about the election persisted. “I don’t know who the president is. Honestly, I don’t know what country I’m living in either," said Anya, 20, a student at Donetsk University.
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from www.mymedia.org.ua, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action. The content is independent of these organizations and is solely the responsibility of the Kyiv Post