Just one day before Ukraine holds a crucial presidential election, confusion and a looming specter of violence are dissuading voters from going to the polls in the country's restive east.
For more than a month, Ukrainian forces have fought increasingly pitched battles with pro-Russian separatists who have besieged the region. Since declaring independence from Ukraine after holding an illegal referendum on May 11, rebels have attempted to tighten their grip on Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. As a result of the clashes, dozens have been killed and wounded on both sides, and whole cities have been effectively barricaded.
In Torez, some 60 kilometers east of Donetsk, residents are fearful of the possible return of the pro-Ukrainian militia endorsed by fringe presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko that brutally killed one pro-Russian separatist and left another badly wounded on May 23.
Torez is populated largely by separatist supporters, who also worry about an ultimatum issued by another pro-Ukrainian militia: the Azov Battallion warned that they would take the city by storm, destroy barricades, and capture separatist leaders if separatists did not vacate city hall by noon on May 24.
It is unclear whether or not the battalion delivered on its promise, but when the Kyiv Post visited, several check points were destroyed on the road from Donetsk, and there was no armed pro-Russian presence in the city.
Torez, and neighboring Shakhtarsk were eerily quiet. District election officials had failed to set up polling stations in both cities, leaving many residents wondering if and where they will be able to vote on May 25.
In Shakhtarsk, a caretaker was the only occupant in the city’s administration building, where preparations for the election would normally be underway.
Tatyana Leonidovna of Torez expressed a desire to vote, but didn't know where she would be able to cast her ballot. She told the Kyiv Post that in the past, elections have been held at the House of Pioneers, one block from her bookstore on Torez's central square.
"I think people will vote," Tatyana said. "Schoolchildren who come to my shop are telling me that their parents will vote. I too hope to vote."
Though some Donetsk residents hope to vote, many will be disenfranchised.
In Artemovsk, a city situated 80 kilometers north of Donetsk, it was clear that no polling stations would be open on May 25.
An Artemovsk election committee member, who wished not to be named for fear of reprisal by pro-Russian separatists, told the Kyiv Post that his committee had called the Central Election Commission in Kyiv, and informed them that their doors would be closed to voters after armed gunmen barricaded the City Council building on May 24.
"If we have elections tomorrow, they will kill us," he said.
Earlier in the week, masked gunman stormed the City Council building, ordering election committee members to hand over ballots and voter information, and destroying official ballot boxes.
Election officials, the committee member said, have worked from home since Wednesday, for fear of being attacked in their office.
Elsewhere in Donetsk Oblast, election officials have faced similar threats, and several have been kidnapped.
In Mariinka, armed militiamen abducted the district election head, stole voting records and set fire to the election commission’s office.
According to the monitoring organizations Committee of Voters of Ukraine and OPORA, Valentin Polyakov was abducted and held for hours before being released.
In the city of Donetsk, chaos reigns. Rebels brazenly destroyed ballot boxes used three weeks prior in the separatist-backed referendum that were to be used in Sunday’s election.
Officials at city’s Kyivsky Region headquarters chased out Kyiv Post reporters inquiring about the state of election preparations.
Down the road, workers at one secondary school remembered that elections had been held there in the past, but said they hadn’t been contacted about the upcoming presidential election.
The separatists have shown no signs of loosening their grip on Luhansk and Donetsk. Their leaders, flanked by armed and masked secessionists, held a rally at Donetsk's Lenin Square on May 24, where they announced that the People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk would unite. The new region, they said, will be called "Novorossiya."
Pro-Russian lawmaker Oleh Tsaryov also attended the ceremony proclaiming the new republic, where he announced the creation of a "People's Front."
"We, the representatives of the people of Odessa, Nikolayev, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk, announce the creation of the People's Front, which is designed to protect the civilian population from the terror of foreign intelligence services, as well as for self-determination and self-organization, and to address urgent social problems," he said.
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.