Live Updates: Election Day in Ukraine

A voter casts his ballot for Ukraine's next president in the eastern city of Krasnoarmeysk on May 25, 2014.

Ukrainians are headed to the polls today to elect a new leader. Mashable will be covering Ukraine's presidential election live all day. See the latest updates below.
REPORTERS IN UKRAINE: Christopher Miller (@christopherjm), David Patrikarakos (@dpatrikarakos) and Evgeny Feldman (@EvgenyFeldman) | EDITORS IN NEW YORK: Amanda Wills (@AmandaWills) and Brian Ries (@moneyries)

Massive rain, hail and thunderstorm hits Kiev

9:45 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014

Kiev is under siege — by Mother Nature.

Reporters in the city say a massive storm of rain and hail is assaulting the city. Inclement weather generally isn't good for turnout in elections, so time will tell how this one affects Ukraine's presidential election.

One local resident captured the storm as it passed over the city, and the hailstones that it left on the city's streets.

'The elections will be held in normal conditions,' Ukraine's acting president says

9:30 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014

Taking The Temperature Ahead Of Ukraine's Election: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 41)

VICE News’s Simon Ostrovsky met with Ukraine's Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov and asked about Turchynov’s plans for the people in the embattled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“I don’t exclude the possibility that in certain areas the terrorists will try to disrupt the vote,” he said, referring to the pro-Russian insurgents who have pledged to do just that.“But as the leaders of the region, the governors and officials in other departments see it, the elections will be held in normal conditions.” He added that international observers — there are thousands of them — will have the opportunity to monitor the elections in the country’s east.

Latest photos from the vote

9:02 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014 / Evgeny Feldman

Photo: Evgeny Feldman 
Though turnout was low in Donetsk, compared the rest of the country, voters did cast their ballots in Krasnoarmeysk. 

Photo: Evgeny Feldman 

Photo: Evgeny Feldman 
Just down the road, pro-Russian separatists held a massive rally in Donetsk.

Photo: Evgeny Feldman 

Photo: Evgeny Feldman

Record turnout across Ukraine — except for Donetsk

8:20 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014


Turnout is high in Ukraine's presidential election, with up to 25% of eligible voters casting a voteViktoria Siumar, deputy secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (NSDC), tells the Kyiv Post that they're seeing a "record turnout" across all regions of Ukraine.

But militants in the country's east have kept a large number of polling centers from opening, and citizens are staying home out of fears that there will be violence. Donetsk, which had 2.7 million voters in the 2010 presidential election, has seen just 5.48% turnout as of 11 a.m. local time. 

Mob of 2,000 storms oligarch's mansion

7:58 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014 / Christopher Miller

Photo: Christopher Miller
DONETSK, Ukraine -- A "mob" of ralley-goers in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, gathered outside the home of Rinat Leonidovych Akhmetov, a Ukrainian businessman and oligarch who is one of the richest people in the nation. More than 2,000 people chanted "Akhmetov -- enemy of the people" and "execution" as they marched toward his mansion. 

 They want to break down the gate and get into the residence. Leaders of the armed militiamen say Akhmetov, who is currently in Kiev, is on the phone with the prime minister of the self-declared Novorossiya Borodin.

Negotiations are underway now.

Journalist killed in eastern Ukraine

7:46 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014 / Amanda Wills

A passport of Italian photojournalist, 30-year old Andrea Rocchelli. AP Photo/Pool

Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli, 30, was killed in eastern Ukraine, Italian officials confirmed on Sunday. 

Rocchelli and his translator were reportedly killed by mortar fire after hiding in a ditch near Sloviansk, the epicenter of violence between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev-supporting troops. The two bodies were taken to a local hospital for family identification. 

The leaders cast their votes

7:34 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014 / Amanda Wills

Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko, center left, and his wife Maria, center, son Alexey, right, cast their ballots. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Petro Poroshenko, who was leading in pre-election polling, cast his vote in Kiev on Sunday. Known as the "Chocolate King" for owning the country’s largest confectionery, the 48-year-old businessman has been leading the polls at or above 50%. 

Meanwhile, his main competition, Yulia Tymoshenko voted in Dnipropetrovsk. The 53-year-old former prime minister — known as the "Gas Princess" for her involvement in murky gas deals during the 1990s — was in a distant second behind Poroshenko in pre-election polls.

Ukraine's presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko casts her ballot as her husband Oleksandr, right, and daughter Yevgenia assist her at a polling station during presidential election in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, Sunday, May,25, 2014. (AP Photo/Olexander Prokopenko)

Polling stations open across Ukraine amidst threats and intimidation

6:55 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014 / Christopher Miller

A man at a polling station enters a voting booth to cast his ballot in Ukraine's presidential election on May 25, 2014 in Ulyanovka, Ukraine. Image: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

DONETSK, Ukraine -- As polling stations opened around Ukraine, the embattled eastern city of Donetsk remained eerily quiet. Central streets remained mostly empty at 9 a.m. At the city's airport, where a polling station was planned to open, only a handful of passengers and police officers were present.

Local election officials who spoke with Mashable said that there would not be voting in the city. Some of them have been in hiding for a week or more, fearful that they could be kidnapped by separatist rebels who have abducted several officials in recent days and forced even more at gunpoint to turn over ballots, voter lists and ballot boxes. 

In Krasnoarmiisk, a city of about 70,000 people one hour east of Donetsk by car, the threat of violence and intimidation was evident on the faces of voters. Still, more than 40 turned out before 10 a.m. to vote at a polling station inside the city's palace of culture.The building and nearby city hall was guarded by more than 20 heavily armed pro-Ukraine militia from the Dnipro Battalion, as well as a handful of police officers.

Quiet night in the birthplace of Ukraine's revolution

6 a.m. ET / May 25, 2014 / David Patrikarakos

People hold flowers as a 'flash mob' sing traditional Ukrainian songs and pray for a peaceful election, in Maidan Square on May 24, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
KIEV, Ukraine -- On the eve of the most important presidential elections in Ukraine for a decade, Kiev life goes on as normal. On Saturday in Independence Square, the scene of the Euromaidan revolution that overthrew former president Viktor Yanukovych, the militia that remain camped out in tents chop firewood and wash their clothes as normal, seemingly oblivious to the political event that many claim they have been waiting for. 

There are more images (usually abusive) in central Kiev of Russian President Vladimir Putin than of the presidential candidates. The flyers and posters that are such an integral part of pre-election life across Western Europe and the U.S. are almost entirely absent here.
In the bars and cafes around Maidan, I tried to get a sense of the mood. In a sushi restaurant I regularly frequent, I asked a young waitress who regularly serves me who she would be voting for. “Petro Poroshenko,” he replied proudly. I asked her why.“Because my mother told me to,” she replied with equal pride.
Later on I spoke to an ex-military friend of mine who gave me a more considered response. “Look,” he said. “What you have to understand is that the two people most likely to win this election - [Yulia] Tymoshenko and Poroshenko – are part of the problem. They’re both oligarchs and they both helped to create the corrupt system Euromaidan rebelled against.
He’s right. Both candidates are billionaires; both have had strong ties to Russia.Porosehnko, called the ‘Chocolate King’ because made his fortune from confectionary, is so far ahead in the polls that most media outlets have predicted he will win the presidency without a run-off.  But nobody on the ground is writing off Tymoshenko.There are rumors she has done a deal with Ukraine’s richest man, Donetsk-based Rinat Akhmetov, who controls large parts of the east, which may bring her unexpected success at the polls, though no one is quite sure how.
A mistrust of the system combined with a certain fatalism dominates Kiev. Two of my friends told me they would be voting for Poroshenko – both preferred other candidates but believed they had no chance so weren’t going to ‘waste’ their votes. “It may as well be Poroshenko,” shrugged one.
As the afternoon drew on I went to a kiosk to buy some cigarettes and asked a middle-aged man sunning himself on the pavement nearby who he wanted to win tomorrow. “It makes no difference,” he replied. “They’re all bastards.

Recapping the day's events

1:30 p.m. ET / May 24, 2014 / Brian Ries

We're winding down our live coverage for the day on the eve of Ukraine's election. We'll pick things back up bright and early on Sunday to cover the day's events. 

A quick recap of Saturday's biggest developments:
  • Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on Ukrainians to vote with the conscience.
  • We've seen numerous reports of polling centers being closed or blockaded by armed separatists in the east. 
  • Two "People's Republics" united on Saturday, forming a state they are calling Novorossiya and a new defense group, the "People's Front."

US senators visit Ukraine, pledge support

12 p.m. ET / May 24, 2014 / Brian Ries

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) speak to the media at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center at the Ukraine Hotel Ukraina in Kiev on Saturday, May 24, on the eve of the country’s presidential election.

U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) are in Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday “to show support for the people of Ukraine and self determination,” Sen. Cardin tweeted.

“We do not want Russia to influence the vote,” said Senator Ben Cardin. Ukraine is a place “where the people determine the leaders of their country, not imposed by other nations,” the senator said at a press conference in Kiev. “Ukrainians make it clear that they want to take care of their own needs. US must be sure they have the ability to stop border incursions,” he said, saying the U.S. was “well aware” that there were outside agitators in eastern Ukraine working to disrupt the vote and undermine the will of the Ukrainian people.

The two senators also met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to discuss the importance of tomorrow's election,” according to Senator Portman.

Separatist “Republics” announce unified state of “Novorossiya”

11 a.m. ET / May 24, 2014 / Brian Ries, Evgeny Feldman & Christopher Miller

A pro-Russian separatist stands before a statue of Lenin at Donetsk's Lenin Square on Saturday, May 24. Image: Evgeny Feldman

A pro-Russian presidential candidate in Ukraine's election, Oleg Tsarev, makes an appearance at the rally in Donetsk's Lenin Square on Saturday, May 24. Image: Evgeny Feldman

A woman addresses a crowd of pro-Russian separatist supporters at a rally in Donetsk's Lenin Square on Saturday, May 24. Image: Evgeny Feldman

A man applauds at a unification rally for two separatist groups at Donetsk's Lenin Square on Saturday, May 24. Image: Evgeny Feldman

A crowd applauds and waves flags at a rally in Donetsk's Lenin Square on Saturday, May 24. Image: Evgeny Feldman
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Leaders of two of eastern Ukraine's main separatist groups held a rally in Donetsk's Lenin's Square on Saturday where they announced that they had agreed to unify, creating a unified state they are calling "Novorossiya."

The two groups, the Luhansk People's Republic and the Donetsk People's Republic, have laid siege to large swaths of eastern Ukraine for months and have reportedly shut down polling centers across the region ahead of Sunday's election.

Denis Pushilin, separatist leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, told reporters on Saturday, "We intend to make sure that voting does not take place here on our territory. If necessary we will revert to the use of force." "We have the right to do so because our countrymen are dying here every day."

A URA-Inform-Donbass correspondent reports, according to a translation by The Interpreter, that the "act of unification" was signed in the name of the people of Donetsk by Aleksandr Boroday, who considers himself the “prime minister of the DPR,” and on behalf of Lugansk by Alexei Karyakin, who considers himself the “chairman of the Republican Assembly of the LPR.”

In attendance at the rally was Ukraine's radical pro-Russian presidential candidate Oleg Tsarev and DPR government official Denis Pushilin, Mashable's Evgeny Feldman reports. 

In addition to the union, Tsarev announced the creation of a new defense group, "People's Front."

"We, the representatives of the people of Odessa, Nikolayev, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk announce the creation of the Popular 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," quoted Tsarev as saying.

Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned Novorossiya on April 18 during a televised question-and-answer event with the Russian public, prompting the Washington Post to call it "the latest historical concept to worry about in Ukraine." And protesters have been chanting its name for months.

 "I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the tsarist days – Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa – were not part of Ukraine back then," Putin said back in April. "The center of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained."

Now, those people have unified behind the historical name.

"Armed bandits" caught entering Ukraine at Russian border

10 a.m. ET / May 24, 2014 / Brian Ries

Eight cars of "armed bandits" were caught trying to enter Ukraine at the Russian border early Saturday morning, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry says in a statement. The Kyiv Post reports officers of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine caught the cars at a checkpoint at 4 a.m. local time in Donetsk.

Election offices seized or under siege in eastern Ukraine

8:20 a.m. ET / May 24, 2014 / Brian Ries

Many residents in eastern Ukraine will have trouble voting in Sunday's presidential election.

Volodymyr Hrinyak, public security chief at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said on Saturday that half of the district election commissions in Donetsk and Luhansk were not operating because armed insurgents seized or blocked their offices, according to the Associated Press.

An election committee official told Mashable's Christopher Miller that polls in the Donetsk city of Artemivsk would not be open on Sunday after "threats from gunmen."

CNN's Jim Sciutto visited a polling station in Makiivka and reported that it was closed after being raided by forces with the Donetsk People's Republic.

Residents in the region are reportedly worried about retribution for voting, according to Kyiv Post's Isaac Webb, after a number of electoral posters have been ripped down across the region, a sight reported by BBC's Mark Lowen.

Interim prime minister of Ukraine's appeal to vote

7:30 a.m. ET / May 24, 2014 / Brian Ries

Зверненн�� Прем'єр-міністра Арсенія Яценюка напередодні виборів. 24.05.14

Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called on Ukrainians to vote in Sunday's election, making the choice according to their beliefs and their conscience.

"Tomorrow we're going to prove to the world, and ourselves, that we can't be intimidated, and we will decide ourselves how to build our home," Yatsenyuk said.

"Your voice will never be stolen again. Only you can choose how to use it. Follow your convictions and conscience to make your choice."

48 hours to go

4:30 p.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Brian Ries

In 48 hours, Ukrainians will head to the polls to elect a new president. 

But as international observers spread throughout the country to ensure a free and fair election, separatists in the restive east continue to cause headaches for Kiev's central government. 

Scores were killed across eastern Ukraine on Thursday and Friday and pro-Russian insurgents say they'll keep some cities from participating in vote.

There has been good news for Kiev: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday morning that Russia would recognize the results of the election. While he still sees the ousted-Viktor Yanukovych as the rightful president, President Putin said he would work with the future elected leader to end the crisis in the region — as long as Ukraine repaid Russia its gas money.

It's nearing midnight in Ukraine, and so Mashable will end our live coverage for the day.But we'll pick things up bright and early Saturday morning.

Stay with us at -- and follow us on Twitter @mashablelive.

How the 3 leading candidates poll by region

2:15 p.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Brian RIes

The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology has released a presentation that illustrates “Ukraine on the even of the presidential election.

Through three charts, the report details how each of the three major candidates — Petro Poroshenko (map #1), Yulia Tymoshenko (map #2) and Sergei Tigipko (map #3) — fare per region.

Poroshenko and Tymoshenko both fare well in Ukraine’s west and center, with Poroshenko polling above 50% in some places (the darker the color red, the more support). Tigipko, alternatively, has supporters in the country’s south and east, as seen in the blue-tinted map.

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The ballots are ready

12:57 p.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Amanda Wills

CBC journalist Nahlah Ayed caught a photo of election monitors opening the boxes containing the ballots for Sunday's election.

20 reportedly died in Thursday's attack in eastern Ukraine

12:22 p.m. ET / May 23, 2014

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said on Friday that nearly 500 pro-Russian insurgents attacked a convoy of Ukrainian troops outside Rubizhne the day before, as Mashable reported on Thursday.  Up to 20 of the attackers are said to be dead following that attack, the Associated Press reported

Separatists smash ballot boxes to prevent Ukrainians from voting

12:17 p.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Amanda Wills

A pro-Russian activist carries a ballot box away from a polling station preparing to smash it, in Donetsk, Ukraine, Friday, May 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Photomig)

One of the biggest challenges of Sunday's election will be controlling the unrest that is breaking out across eastern Ukraine. 

Tension between the new government and pro-Russian separatists has spread throughout the country -- particularly in these eastern regions -- over the past few months since Yanukovych was booted from office. All eyes will be on the region this weekend because many separatist-controlled cities are against this election. Separatists even they held their own so-called referendum on May 11 to secede from Ukraine.

Ahead of Sunday, pro-Russian activists are going around these cities and surrounding areas, destroying ballot boxes and doing whatever else they can to prevent residents from casting their votes — including warning of explosions at the polls. Ukraine's acting government has admitted that authorities will not be able to organize the voting in parts of eastern Ukraine that are overrun by pro-Russian insurgents.

Presidential candidate's militiamen storm rebel-held building

11:37 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Evgeny Feldman and Christopher Miller 

Militiamen working for presidential candidate Oleh Lyashko stormed this office in a government building that pro-Russian separatists had taken over. Photo: Evgeny Feldman, Mashable

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Militiamen working for Oleh Lyashko, leader of Radical Party and a presidential candidate, stormed a government building in Donetsk. Mashable has confirmed that one person is dead and another is in critical condition. One man, who sources identified as "Roman," died from a gunshot wound the head. The other, whose first name is Alexander, was shot in the neck and is undergoing surgery. The victims' last names were not given.

Six bullets were pulled from the wall, and there were bloody footprints everywhere. No less than 10 shots fired from a Kalashnikov, says investigator.

Six bullets were from the wall of the building in Torez. According to the investigator, no less than 10 shots fired from a Kalashnikov.
A local man named Dmitry told Mashable that both men were local activists, but they were not radicals.  

The militiamen, who witnesses said were dressed like "ninjas" stormed this office in a government building that pro-Russian separatists had seized. Photo: Evgeny Feldman, Mashable
Located in Torez, a mining town of some 70,000 people 60 kilometers east of Donetsk, the building was a city administration office that pro-Russian separatists had taken over. Witnesses say Lyashko's militiamen were dressed in black, and one person described them as described as "ninjas."

"Soldiers from the Lyashko Battalion 'Ukraine' have cleared and liberated the city government building from the 'Colorados' [separatists wearing orange and black ribbons of St. George] in Torez, Donetsk region. Two terrorists were killed, among our men were no injuries. Glory to Ukraine!"

More than 20 candidates are on the ballot for Sunday, including Lyashko. However, he is trailing far behind in pre-election polling and isn't considered to be a frontrunner.Various polls put him in the range of 3% to 5%

Oleh Lyashko, left, leader of Ukrainian Radical Party and presidential candidate, speaks to self defense volunteers at a training ground outside Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, May 23, 2014. Troops who reportedly work for Lyashko stormed a rebel-held building in Donetsk, killing at least one. (AP Photo/Osman Karimov)

The people who will ensure Sunday's election is a fair one

10:45 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Brian Ries

Thousands of election observers spread across Ukraine on Friday ahead of Sunday’s presidential election to ensure the voting is carried out in a fair manner.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power says there are thousands of them — from a variety of countries and international organizations — as governments around the world work to ensure a free and fair election.

Mike Forster-Rothbart, a photojournalist documenting the election in Ukraine, attended a training event for nearly 1,000 of them working for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). CBC journalist Nahlah Ayed caught 2,000 of the observers boarded busses to various destinations around the country. Some of them are headed for Donetsk, the embattled region in eastern Ukraine where officials fear voters may face difficulties in reaching their polling places.

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Separatist leaders declare martial law

10:01 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Christopher Miller

In this photo taken on Monday, May 12, 2014, the leader of insurgency in the Luhansk region Valery Bolotov, center, greets people as they declare independence for the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine on Monday, May 12, 2014. On May 23, two days before the presidential election, leaders imposed martial law on residents in the region. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
DONETSK, Ukraine -- Separatist leaders from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic called on men ages 19 to 40 to register and join their militia to fight against Ukrainian forces.

Their counterparts from the Luhansk People’s Republic on Thursday announced that martial law would be imposed upon residents in the eastern region and called for men ages 18 to 45 to mobilize and take up arms.

5 dead after gunfight in eastern Ukraine

9:50 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Christopher Miller 

DONETSK, Ukraine -- At least five dead after gunfight between pro-Ukraine Donbass Battalion and pro-Russian Vostok Battalion in the town of Karlivka, which is about an hour by car west of Donetsk. 

The pro-Ukraine militia group Donbass Battalion came under fire by a group of “Chechen forces,” according to the group’s commander, Semyon Semenchenko.
In a post on Facebook, Semenchenko said he believe the battalion’s clandestine position near the city of Krasnoarmeisk had been given away and that his men were under attack. 

Some “50% [of the battalion’s men] are wounded and have lost a lot of blood,” he wrote. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army, positioned at a roadblock nearby, had not responded to his calls for help, he added.
WARNING: Graphic content below.

Pro-Russian gunmen stand next a dead body of a pro-Russian man at a checkpoint outside of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 23, 2014. At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near the eastern city of Donetsk. (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Update 8 a.m. ET / May 24, 2014: VICE News spoke with a witness to the shooting who confirmed that some of the men were Chechen. “We saw them moving through the woods two days ago when we were out on bicycles," 42-year-old Andrey tells Vice. "One lad approached them and they said they were Chechens here to help. I don’t know whose side they were on.

A stark divide between east and west 

8:52 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Brian Ries

poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that businessman and presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko is viewed most favorable by Ukrainians, while Mykaylo Dobkin is viewed most unfavorably. 

“But despite his national standing,” Pew finds, “Poroshenko faces a major hurdle in bridging the country’s sharp regional divide.” He remains favorable in the country’s west, but unfavorable in its east — and even more so with Russian speakers there. In Crimea, Poroshenko’s practically persona non grata.

Asked if they felt Sunday’s presidential election would be fair, less than half of Ukrainians said it was likely to be conducted honestly.

“Western Ukrainians have much more faith that the approaching election will be fair (59%) than easterners (27%),” Pew observes. “In the east, Russian-only speakers are particularly skeptical about the upcoming election: just 19% say it will be fair, compared with 75% who say it will not.

A night at a checkpoint in Sloviansk

8:30 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Simon Ostrovsky for VICE News

Simon Ostrovsky Returns To Eastern Ukraine: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 40)

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine -- VICE News reporter Simon Ostrovsky embedded with the Ukrainian National Guard at one of the checkpoints outside Sloviansk earlier this week, and his reporting shows just how difficult it will be for the Ukrainians to hold a free and fair election in the country’s embattled eastern regions. 

“It’s hard to believe they’re going to pull it off under these circumstances,” Ostrovsky says as gunfire erupts in the distance. Many of the men there are volunteers who, just a few months prior, were protesting at the Maidan in Kiev. Now they're fighting off pro-Russian insurgents.

Putin says he'll respect the outcome of Ukraine’s election

8:02 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Brian Ries

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to a question during a plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Investment Forum Friday, May 23, 2014. Speaking at the investment forum, Putin blamed the West for encouraging a “coup” in Ukraine, when the nation’s pro-Russian president was chased from power after months of protests. He said that Ukraine is now facing “chaos and a full-scale civil war.” (AP Photo/RIA Novosti Kremlin, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

“We will resect the choice that the Ukrainian people will make,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia on Friday morning. 

“[After the election] I hope that all military action stops and rational dialogue will begin,” he said.

Putin did say it would have been so much easier if Ukraine had simply held its referendum first, noting that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych remains the country’s legal president because he wasn't removed constitutionally. Putin said Russia will cooperate with the country’s newly elected head of state. 

Accusing the West of supporting the “anti-constitutional coup d'etat” there, Putin said Ukraine has devolved into a “full-scale civil war.” He also said an Odessa-style tragedy was avoided in Crimea when Russia forcefully annexed the peninsula.

The majority of the President’s speech dealt with the pivoting Russian economy — as China has become the country’s primary trade partner and gas is a major Russian export — but it touched at points on the crisis in Ukraine.

The man who gave Ukraine's army 1,000 bulletproof vests

7:54 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / David Patrikarakos

A Ukrainian National Guard soldier guards a checkpoint outside of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, May 4, 2014. Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka/Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine -- Despite the launch of an anti-terror operation last month, its army has yet to clear pro-Russia separatists from the buildings they occupy in cities across eastern Ukraine. But this is hardly surprising because soldiers are woefully underprepared. They lack basic equipment, medicine and even food.

That's partly why Yuri, a 40-year-old IT investor, turned to Facebook when he wanted to help give his country a fighting chance. Yuri set up a Facebook group called Wings Phoenix that would eventually raise thousands to help fund and equip the Ukrainian army. 

The group, which started collecting money on March 27, gets 20 to 30 donations per day. So far, they've raised nearly 2 million Hr ($167,000). “Next week we will hit three million,” he says. “We have raised almost half of our total in one week because people are watching developments in the east and want to help our soldiers fighting there.

Most of the money is spent on bulletproof vests — something the army desperately needs and still lacks — and Yuri has purchased almost 1,000 since March. [FULL STORY]

An eastern Ukrainian village wakes up to destruction 

6:55 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Amanda Wills

Mizan Mazasheva, 50, stands in front of her house destroyed during a night combat between Ukrainian troops and armed pro-Russian militants in the village of Semenovka, near the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk on May 23, 2014. Photo: VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images

The eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk has been the epicenter of the raging conflict between armed pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine's military. The violence spread to a village on the city's outskirts after Ukrainian government forced and pro-Russian rebels exchanged heavy fire on Thursday evening and into Friday morning, destroying private homes.

An elderly local woman passes a house destroyed by shellings in Semyonovka village on May 23, 2014. On Friday, a private house was destroyed by mortar fire that came from the Ukrainian side. There were no casualties, as the family living there had left the previous day, according to local residents. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Local police told Russian news agency ITAR-TASS that intense fire came from the Ukrainian forces side, and the Associated Press hinted at that as well. However, we were unable to confirm.

Mazasheva cries at her house destroyed during a night combat on May 23, 2014. Photo: VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images

Luckily, no one was killed in the attacks, but the event is a signal of the growing unrest in eastern Ukraine just two days before the election. This region in particular will be an area of concern going into the weekend because it's largely pro-Russian and currently dominated by armed separatists who lead a so-called referendum on May 11 to secede from Ukraine. 

Death toll climbs to 16 in Ukraine after checkpoint ambush

6:17 a.m. ET / May 23, 2014 / Christopher Miller

A body covered with a uniform lies in a field near the village of Blahodatne, eastern Ukraine, on Thursday, May 22, 2014. At least 16 Ukrainian troops were killed when Pro-Russians attacked a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in the weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Three charred Ukrainian armored infantry vehicles, their turrets blown away by powerful explosions, and several burned vehicles stood at the site of the combat. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

DONETSK, Ukraine – A day after the 
single most deadly attack against Ukrainian forcessince clashes began in eastern Ukraine details of the event in Volnovakha remain hazy, including exactly who the gunmen who launched an assault against army reservists there were.

Rumors run the gauntlet, from locals who say the far-right nationalist group Right Sector was behind the attack to pro-Russian insurgents from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic to experienced mercenaries.

The only thing seems clear is that 16 Ukrainian servicemen were brutally killed during the ambush near the town of Volnovakha some 18 miles south of Donetsk on Thursday, according to First Deputy Health Minister of Ukraine Ruslan Saliutin.

"Unfortunately, 16 our servicemen were killed [during the gun battle]," he said during a telephone broadcast on Ukraine’s Channel Five on Thursday.

A new video purporting to have been filmed at the scene of the battle surfaced overnight. 

It shows several Ukrainian servicemen taking cover behind a forest green military truck in a field where the assault occurred. At least two vehicles can been seen burning nearby and one of them eventually explodes, sending a ball of flames into the sky. Meanwhile, three helicopters pass overheard, and the servicemen can be heard discussing from which side they came.

“Are they ours?” Shouts one officer.

A Google+ Hangout on Ukraine's Election

7 p.m. ET / May 22, 2014 / Brian Ries

The U.S. State Department is hosting a Google+ Hangout on Friday, May 23 at 9 a.m.ET to discuss Ukraine's election. 

U.S. Representative to the OSCE Ambassador Daniel Baer, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine Danylo Lubkivsky, Ukrainian Representative to the United States Ambassador Olexander Motsyk, Head of ENEMO (European Network of Election Monitoring) Mission to Ukraine Peter Novotny, OPORA Election Observation Campaign Coordinator Olha Aivazovska, and Founder of the Chesno Movement for Fair Elections in Ukraine Svitlana Zalishchuk will be joined by the BBC’s Ian Pannell in the Hangout, which will stream on the State Department's YouTube and Google+ pages.

On May 25, Ukraine will hold presidential elections, as well as mayoral elections in 38 cities, including Kyiv. The Ukrainian Government has prepared extensively for these elections, including by amending the electoral law to bring it in line with OSCE recommendations that will improve the transparency, inclusivity, and legitimacy of the voting process. This Hangout is an opportunity to hear directly from the Government of Ukraine and various monitoring organizations about efforts to ensure the elections are credible, transparent, and peaceful, as well as from the U.S. Representative to the OSCE about U.S. cooperation with the OSCE and the international community to support these elections.

The State Department says to follow @StateDept, @USOSCE, @DanBBaer, and @UKRProgress (in Russian), and the hashtags #UkraineVotes and #UnitedforUkraine on Twitter for more information.

What Ukrainian voters care about: The EU, the economy and those separatists in the east

6:15 p.m. ET / May 22, 2014 / Brian Ries and Christopher Miller

A masked pro-Russian militant stands behind the barricades at a checkpoint blocking the major highway which links Kharkiv, outside Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, May 17, 2014. Image: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
Ukrainians will head to the polls facing three main issues: a deal with the European Union, an economic recovery and how to best handle the pro-Russian separatists that have seized control in a handful of restive eastern Ukrainian cities. 

Poroshenko and Tymoshenko have both vocalized their support for further actions against the insurgents, while Tigipko and Dobkin have placed much of the blame for the tumult there on Kiev.

These are the leading candidates

5:45 p.m. ET / May 22, 2014 / Brian Ries and Christopher Miller


Of the 18 presidential candidates who remain (a field that's been whittled down from a total of 22), four are seen as the likeliest contenders for Ukraine's presidency. 

They are: 
Petro Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Sergiy Tigipko and Mikhail Dobkin. 

Poroshenko (top right), an oligarch known to Ukrainians as the "Chocolate King," is the frontrunner to watch: he's polling at or near 50%. Mashable's Christopher Miller previewed the election on Wednesday and said Poroshenko is what many in Ukraine call a political chameleon, helping found the political party of Yanukovych, worked with a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, serve in Orange Revolution President Viktor Yushchenko’s government and was later appointed as economy minister in Yanukovych’s administration. 

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