Pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum on self-rule for eastern Ukraine, with some saying that meant independence and others eventual union with Russia as fighting flared in a conflict increasingly out of control.
Organizers in the main region holding the makeshift vote on Sunday said nearly 90 percent had voted in favor.
Well before polls closed, one separatist leader said the region would form its own state bodies and military after the referendum, formalizing a split that began with the armed takeover of state buildings in a dozen eastern towns last month.
Another said the vote simply showed that the East wanted to decide its own fate, whether in Ukraine, on its own, or as part of Russia.
“Eighty-nine percent, that’s it,” the head of the separatist electoral commission in Donetsk, Roman Lyagin, said by telephone when asked for the result of a vote that the pro-Western Ukrainian government in Kiev has condemned as illegal.
A festive atmosphere at makeshift polling stations in some areas belied the potentially grave implications of the event. In others, clashes broke out between separatists and troops over ballot papers and control of a television tower.