Ukraine Liveblog Day 258: Russian-Backed Separatists Vote in ‘Elections,’ With Free Food

November 2, 2014
Voters are reportedly provided fresh fruit and vegetables if they take part in 'elections' staged by Russian-backed separatists in Lugansk. Photo by Ilya Barabanov/Kommersant

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Voting Ends In Donetsk, Shelling Erupts – Aleksandr Zakharchenko In Lead

the voting in Donetsk is over and the shelling has reportedly restarted.
Exit polls suggest that the current self-appointed Prime Minister of the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic,’ Aleksandr Zakharchenko, has won the elections there.
Ukrainian President Rejects Donbass ‘Elections’ As Violation Of Minsk Accord
Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, could not be any more clear about today’s ‘elections’ in eastern Ukraine:

While his whole statement is currently only available in Ukrainian, RFE/RL has translated the core of it:

 “The farce being conducted under the threat of tanks and guns by the two terrorist organizations in parts of Donbas is a terrible event that has nothing to do with real will.’

“All elections on Ukrainian territory where Ukrainian citizens are voting must take place exclusively under Ukrainian law,” he said.

Realistically,  the Minsk accords which brought about the ceasefire at the end of August, are in serious disrepair and are in danger of completely breaking. Fighting is intensifying across eastern Ukraine, as are Russian troop movements both inside Ukrainian territory and on the Russian side of the border, as are are aggressive Russian incursions into NATO air and sea space. The conflict in Ukraine is looking more like it did before the ceasefire and the Russian invasion which preceded it. 

There are several possible consequences of these trends and these elections: will one or both sides decide that the ceasefire has run its course? Will Russia recognize these so-called “elections” and use them as a justification for militarily supporting an independent — or annexed — Donbass region?

So far the available evidence suggests that the conflict in eastern Ukraine is far from over and could be escalating, despite the general lack of attention being paid to this issue by the wider Western press and political leaders, some of whom are distracted by their own elections.

OSCE Not Monitoring ‘So-Called Elections,’ But RT Says They Are
The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) is the international organization tasked with, among many other things, overseeing elections in Ukraine. It is a mission in which Russia and many countries in the West participate. This is what the OSCE is saying about today’s elections being held by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine:
This could not be more clear. Not only is the OSCE not observing the elections, they are describing them (accurately) as “so-called elections.'” As RFE/RL points out, however, that’s not what Paula Slier, journalist for the Russian state-controlled news/propaganda agency RT, is reporting:
Another puzzling statement:
These tweets are made even more confusing by two of Slier’s more accurate recent tweets:

So who is observing the so-called “elections”? As we reported yesterday, the Russian-backed separatists have created their own agency to monitor the elections:

Journalists in Donetsk today received invitations to a separatist press conference held in conjunction with a hitherto unheard-of body – the “Association for Security and Co-operation in Europe.”

This may sound familiar, because the name and the acronym the DNR (‘Donetsk People’s Republic’) have used (ASCE) are clearly intended to evoke that of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE.

The ASCE appears to have been invented so as to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the separatist ‘elections’ due to be held tomorrow in the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Read more about this on yesterday’s liveblog

See our special coverage of this “ASCE” in a separate analysis by Anton Shekhovtsov: Fake Monitors “Observe” Fake Elections in the Donbass

‘Intensive’ Movement Of Russian Troops And Military Equipment

It’s not just the Ukrainian government that is reporting it — significant amounts of military hardware and fighters have been spotted inside eastern Ukrainian territory controlled by Russian-backed fighters by journalists as well.

AFP is leading with this headline (note, the tweet has been retweeted by the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt):

AFP reports:

“There is intensive deployment of military equipment and personnel of the enemy from the territory of the Russian Federation onto territory temporarily controlled by insurgents,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told a briefing in Kiev.

In Donetsk, the main rebel-held city in Ukraine’s industrial south-east, AFP reporters saw about 20 trucks, some carrying anti-aircraft guns, heading towards the government-held airport, although it was not clear whether these were new forces.

Several Western news outlets reported witnessing heavy movement of troops near Donetsk.

Among them, reporters for the news sites and tweeted that they had seen a large military column. Buzzfeed’s Max Seddon wrote: “31 unmarked Kamazes (military trucks) just drove past towards Donetsk. Anti-aircraft weapons, ammunition boxes, radar systems, a bus of gunmen.”

Mashable’s reporter Christopher Miller tweeted having seen more than 40 trucks headed toward Donetsk “with anti-aircraft guns, fighters”.

More details from the National Security and Defense Council:

As we’ve been reporting, for weeks the Ukrainian government had been reporting deescalation in fighting and a lower death toll. That trend began to turn around on Monday, the day after parliamentary elections, and with each passing day the reports of violence and fighting are intensifying. 
American Attorney Frank Abernathy Observes ‘Elections’ in Donbass with Well-Connected Religious Group

Among the observers at the unrecognized “elections” today of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk” is an American, attorney Frank G. Abernathy, the grand nephew of a prominent civil rights lawyer Ralph Abernathy, a close colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a statement reported by Rossiyskaya Gazeta,
Abernathy said (translation by The Interpreter):

“I very much hope that participation of the international observers will enable recognition  of these elections as more open and democratic. After all, the main purpose of our presence is of having it be more transparent and open. We bear responsibility for this,” said Abernathy.

Abernathy also noted that in his opinion, the end of any conflict is dialogue, because “it is extremely important that people from the LPR and DPR have their elected official representatives” who would conduct this dialogue. “People have a right to self-determination, which is realized with the help of holding elections,” said the American observer. “They must determine themselves who rules them and how they will chose their future.”

Meanwhile Abernathy said that the participation of the international observers would hardly affect the position of the USA and a number of European countries regarding the election sin the DPR and LPR. “Participation of international observers can hardly enable recognition of the elections in the DPR and LPR as legitimate, as the USA an European countries are full of themselves.”

Abernathy’s group US-Ukraine Observe is not an election monitoring group, but a newspaper about Ukrainian-American relations. It was founded by the Spiritual Diplomacy Foundation, a group established by Russian emigre and Kiev native Mikhail Margolis, who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1977.

Despite having left the USSR many years previously, Margolis was able to get meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, and was among the first Christian broadcasters on Soviet TV.

His group is devoted to the idea of religious citizens’ diplomacy, but has gravitated to some of the regions’ tyrants in seeking to have an impact and raise money for its charities.

Margolis has had hundreds of meetings with high officials in the region, including Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenko.

In 2013, Spiritual Diplomacy Foundation board member Mark Bazelev led a group of judges and lawyers, including Frank Abernathy, on a trip to Kiev to meet with counterparts. Abernathy was able to meet with later-deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.

Abernathy’s articles in the US Ukrainian Observer are friendly toward Ukraine and mildly critical of Russian imperialism, and he has posted some positive articles about Ukraine by others such as by pro-Kiev analyst Taras Kuzio. But he also posted a piece that followed the line of the Yanukovych regime — and the Kremlin — in invoking the threat of “fascism” and antisemitism with groups like Svoboda gaining seats in parliament in the past.

In fact, in the last election, Svoboda was not able to garner the required 5% of vote to enter the parliament. Some individual members may get seats in majoritarian districts, but they will be definitely outnumbered by more liberal parties.

Unlike some of the far-right European party representatives on the “observers” junket to the “People’s Republics,” the US Ukrainian Observers’ group does not appear to be associated with right-wing or hardline groups in the US.

But it is a group that has combined religion and business to provide access to authoritarian rulers in the region. In an interview with the online publication Russian Corporate World, Margolis provided his “formula for success”:

If it is not a secret, how do you manage to persuade pragmatic
businessmen to take part in your Foundation’s numerous charity initiatives?

usually takes place at meetings and networking events. For example,
when I meet with business representatives in the US, I say to them:
“Gentlemen, we will help you to launch your businesses in Russia. I know
many governors, the right people in government, but if you get a
contract with our help, please, do not forget to donate parts of your
profit to our charity projects – such as the orphanages, Afghanistan war
invalids, disabled veterans from other military conflicts, pensioners,
cancer patients, etc.

One National Guardsman Reported Killed, Three Wounded in Mariupol Checkpoint Explosion
The news site has details on the explosion in Mariupol reported earlier.

At 7:30 this morning, residents of the Vostochny microdistrict reported that a powerful explosion had gone off at the Vostochny checkpoint on Taganrog Street. The Interpreter has a translation:

“Windows shattered in the foyer. It looks like someone was wounded. They dragged a soldier under his arms about 100 meters,” said an eyewitness.

According to a local official, Roman Sokolov, unknown persons drove a blue SUV up to the checkpoint and blew it up. One soldier from the National Guard was reportedly killed and three soldiers were wounded.

At 8:30 it was learned that the explosion occurred when the driver of the SUV began to open up his trunk to enable an inspection by soldiers at the checkpoint.  The driver suffered light injuries and is providing testimony.

According to preliminary information, the incident wasn’t a terrorist attack, but the driver was trying to haul explosives through the checkpoint.

SBU Opens Up Criminal Case Against Russian-Backed Separatists for ‘Seizure of Power’

The “elections” staged today by the Russian-backed separatists are unlawful, and violate the agreement for a ceasefire and a law on special status for certain districts of the Donbass reached in Minsk last month by Kiev and the fighters.

Because the separatists have nonetheless gone ahead with them, Kiev authorities are opening up a criminal case against the leaders.

Translation: the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] has opened up a case regarding the elections in the “DPR” and “LPR”.

Ukrainska Pravda reports on a press conference by SBU representatives:

“A criminal proceeding has been opened on evidence of crimes stipulated under Art. 109, part 1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (actions aimed at violent alteration or seizure of state power.

The elections have been condemned by the UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe:

Amid Gunmen, Donbass Takes Part in Unrecognized ‘Elections’

The unrecognized “elections” are continuing in the “People’s Republics” today apparently without incident, although there are a lot of men with guns at the voting precincts, and a car bomb was reported in Mariupol. seems unaware of the irony in this tweet, given the heavy presence of gunmen everywhere:

Translation: DPR and LPR: we are independently determining our fate.

Translation: Oplot has come to vote.

Oplot battalion was headed by Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who is now the prime minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Due to destruction of buildings by the fighting, some precincts aren’t
open, and some towns have less — in Ilovaisk, for example:

Translation: Ilovaisk. One of the three precincts in this city of 16,000 before the war.

Translation: A convoy of military trucks on the road from Ilovaisk to Donetsk.

At the 9-story apartment building near the airport, made infamous by Russian state media and Russian-backed separatist YouTube videos of the fighters shooting from the roof while people still live in the apartments, a rebel commander has set up a polling station to make it easier for his men to vote.

There’s been some debate about whether the food at the polling stations is given out for free, or people nevertheless have to pay. But the prices are low — one hryvnia is 77 cents.

Translation: They are giving out cabbage and potatoes at the precinct.

Translation: the line to the buffet at the precinct.

Translation: Stakhanov. Elections in the LPR. There are huge lines at all the precincts, there are only 5 precincts open for the whole city. They lured people with social cards.

The “social cards” are cards handed out by the separatist authorities which people can use to get pensions and welfare.

Translation: the terrorists bought the “voters” some vegetables.

Translation: In Gorlovka, Artyomsk, and Mariupol the MTS [cell phone company] isn’t accessible once again, as citizens of those cities report.

Translation: dancing at the precinct on Shchorsa Street.

Translation: We’re going to vote.

The picture shows Dmitry Steshin and Aleksandr Kots, reporters for the pro-government Komsomolskaya Pravda who are illegally in Ukraine, as they have been banned by the Ukrainian government. They may be joking, but there have been cases in the past where Russian citizens have been able to vote in Ukraine.

Translation: We were at the precinct in Makeyevka, there was a line, I’m not kidding, 200 meters long. And it isn’t growing less.

Translation: voters will be bused from areas under combat to vote. Now we are going to such “problematic” precincts.

Explosions in Mariupol Reported; Russian State Reporter Says ‘Front Line Has Moved’

EuroMaidanPR and Liveuamap have reported explosions in Mariupol, a town that has been subjected to attacks in the past by both the Russian Federation army and Russian-backed separatists.

Earlier Dmitry Steshin, a journalist for the pro-government Komsomolskaya Pravda, said the “front line has moved.” Steshin has been banned from Ukraine but continues to sneak in and embed with the Russian-backed separatists to report on the war.

Translation: Our guys have reached the outskirts of Mariupol, the line of the front has moved. The city is visible. There is practically no garrison there.

A Ukrainian Twitter user asked Steshin, “Who are your ‘our guys’? The army in ‘Press’ flak jackets?”

He was referring to the incident two days ago in Donetsk where a famous Russian actor outfitted in gear with “Press” marked on it fired with a machine gun at Ukrainian troops at the Donetsk Airport.

Steshin’s reply:

Translation: You’ll find out soon, you won’t be mistaken.
Polls Open in Russian-Backed Separatists’ Staged ‘Elections’ With Reports of Free Food

Today, November 2, Russian-backed separatists in Lugansk and Donetsk staged sham “elections” in defiance of Ukrainian law and the international community’s warnings not to violate that law as well as the Minsk agreement that brought a ceasefire, now constantly violated.

The polls opened more than an hour ago at 9:00 am Moscow time, which
is the time zone that the self-declared “People’s Republics of Donetsk
and Lugansk” moved to last month. It is now 10:15 am in Donetsk and
Lugansk (and 2:15 am EST in New York, where we moved an hour back
already today for Daylight Savings Time).

Prior to the “elections,” there were reports that pensioners could
only pick up pensions if they voted, and promises were made to people
that they could get free food in war-torn cities if they voted.

Such a scene today was captured by a reporter:

Translation: Potatoes, cabbage, carrots — everything for the voter.

The pro-separatist Russian citizen’s media site reported that the potatoes and such were in fact for sale near the polling stations, but for a low price. published a photo of buns for sale with a basket full of coins nearby, along with photos of Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” and a territorial election commission:


Translation: Zakharchenko voted at the precinct at School No. 1, he came in a suit.

Interfax reported that in a speech at the election precinct, Zakharchenko said he “didn’t rule out negotiations with Kiev,” although last week he said he was planning on taking over Mariupol.

Translation: DPR Prime Minister Zakharchenko announced possible talks with Kiev.

Beyond the misleading tweet, the Interfax story itself didn’t sound as conciliatory (translation by The Interpreter):

“Of course, there will be negotiations with Ukraine, but we don’t plan anything specific,” he told journalists.

Furthermore, Zakharchenko expressed the hope that Kiev would peacefully agree to give the DPR a number of territories.

“I’m waiting for Ukraine to give up our cities without a fight,” he specified. reported that Zakharchenko excepted Ukraine to give recognition to the DPR:

Translation: New from the Donbass November 2: Zakharchenko is confident of Ukraine’s recognition of Ukraine.

“They will recognize us, return our occupied territory and next we will live as partners with equal rights,” he said, noting that “today the fate of our country is in reliable hands.”