Live Updates: Separatist Republics Announce Unified State as Ukraine Readies for Election

An armed man stands before a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Donetsk, Ukraine, on May 24, 2014.

Three months after anti-government protesters in Ukraine ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainians head to the polls on May 25 to elect a new leader. Mashable will be following the events leading up to Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday. See the latest updates below.
REPORTERS IN UKRAINE: Mashable's Christopher Miller (@christopherjm), David Patrikarakos (@dpatrikarakos) and Evgeny Feldman (@EvgenyFeldman); VICE News's Simon Ostrovsky (@SimonOstrovsky) | EDITORS IN NEW YORK:Amanda Wills (@AmandaWills) and Brian Ries (@moneyries)

The leading candidates

Ukraine Presidential Candidates

Images (Clockwise L-R): Petro Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Mikhail Dobkin and Sergiy Tigipko.

Areas to watch

Ukraine Conflict Map

Separatist “Republics” announce unified state of “Novorossiya”

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

A pro-Russian separatists 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
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.

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.

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

Звернення 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."

Lyashko confirmed the attack on his Facebook page (translation by Mashable): 

"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 tragedywas 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 forces since 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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