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article imageAnger, confusion in Donetsk after rebel vote

By Marion Thibaut and Max Delany (AFP)     May 12, 2014 in World

A day after the people of Donetsk apparently voted overwhelmingly to split from Ukraine, an eerie calm reigned on the streets as people wondered what country they had woken up in.

Unlike a similar referendum in the peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, there were no wild celebrations, no sense of joy -- just slight confusion about the future and a lingering anger towards the leaders in Kiev.

Taxi driver Dmytro Boyko told AFP as he waited to collect his daughter from school that many in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk were "frightened by what has happened and by the future."

"We do not know what will happen, nor who will lead us but in any case, we couldn't stand by and do nothing," the 36-year-old said.

He was unequivocal in blaming the Western-backed leaders in Kiev for the recent unrest that has brought the former Soviet Republic to the brink of civil war.

"The new government took bad decisions and communicated them badly. It's a shame because after that, things escalated quickly."

"This referendum was the only way to express our disagreement with the powers-that-be in Kiev."

Pro-Russian militiants stand by as they maintain a barricade outside the regional state building in ...
Pro-Russian militiants stand by as they maintain a barricade outside the regional state building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 12, 2014
Genya Savilov, AFP

According to "official" results from the referendum in the Donetsk region of some 4.7 million people, nearly 90 percent voted for independence, with a turnout of 75 percent.

Monday therefore marked the first day of the so-called "People's Republic of Donetsk" although no one apart from Russia is ever likely to recognise the break-away entity.

- Mad house -

The "referendum" was a chaotic affair that fell far short of international democratic standards. In the port city of Mariupol -- population nearly half a million -- there were only four ballot boxes.

And the biggest question now for the people of the world's newest self-proclaimed republic is how they will be governed. Not many were sure.

"I can't say exactly what will happen in the future but it won't be any worse. This I am 100 percent sure of," said Veronika, a 50-year-old schoolteacher.

A former coal mine rescue worker, who did not wish to give his name, was more optimistic.

"I expect some changes now, for the better of course. The government has squeezed us from both sides with pensions staying at the same level after they promised increases, and the minimum wage also the same," he told AFP.

The question exercising the minds of Western leaders is whether the two referendums -- in Donetsk province and in neighbouring Lugansk -- will result in eastern Ukraine joining Russia.

Many going calmly about their business on Monday said that recent violence that has wracked eastern and southern Ukraine has turned them firmly against the West and Kiev -- which they blame for the unrest -- and towards the Kremlin.

"A couple of weeks ago I would have voted for being a federation as part of Ukraine, but after the events in Odessa, Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, and Krasnoarmiysk yesterday, I think there's no future in this country for us in the east," said IT worker Andriy, referring to places that have recently suffered deadly violence.

Slavyansk, the bastion of rebel activity in the province, has been encircled for weeks by the Ukrainian army as they seek to flush out insurgents holed up in the town. Military strikes on the town have left several dead on both sides.

Odessa, a scenic port city in southern Ukraine, was the scene of the worst bloodshed since the authorities in Kiev took power in February, with 42 dead in a blaze that marked the culmination of a day of street battles between pro-Russian militants and supporters of Ukrainian unity.

Pensioner Anna seemed to sum up the confusion surging through the region.

"For me, I am still in Ukraine but who knows where we will be tomorrow -- it is a mad house," she told AFP.

"I was born in this country, my children were born here and my grandchildren and I just want there to be peace."

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