Ukraine: Fighting surges on eve of separatist vote set by Russian-backed forces

Ukraine: Fighting surges on eve of separatist vote set by Russian-backed forces

Seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed and heavy shelling erupted Saturday across the country’s south-east on the eve of separatist elections backed by Russia, but condemned by Kiev and Western governments. …

There was intensive shelling at the ruins of Donetsk airport, which remains partly in Ukrainian hands, despite lying in territory mostly controled by the separatists, officials said.

Mid-morning Saturday, explosions could be heard about every five seconds, accompanied by the sound of machine-guns, AFP correspondents in Donetsk said. …

The bombardments formed a frightening backdrop to elections on Sunday in the self-declared, pro-Russian statelets known as the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.

There were no signs of polling stations in Donetsk near the airport and rebel soldiers deployed there said they didn’t know of any stations in the area. However, there was little doubt about the winners of the two polls, with separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko on course to become head of the Donetsk republic and Igor Plotnitsky in Lugansk.

Separatist authorities, who have close links with their Russian counterparts, say three million ballots have been printed and that voting by Internet has already started. There’s even an exit poll planned for late Sunday. …

Russia says it will recognise the legitimacy of the separatist elections, infuriating Ukraine and Western countries which describe the votes as another blow to the already teetering ceasefire.

Latest UN figures show 4,035 people have been killed in about seven months of war — more than 300 of them in the last 10 days.

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