A one-time candidate in Ukraine’s presidential election, who bowed out of the race and now supports the insurgency in the east, on Sunday dismissed the self-proclaimed winner of the vote as “half a president”.
“We consider (Petro) Poroshenko — if he is elected — to not be legitimate. We won’t recognise this vote,” said Oleh Tsarov, a former member of the Regions Party of toppled pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
“We consider that the winner of the election is president of west Ukraine — he is a half president,” he told AFP as he walked through a hotel in the rebel-held eastern hub of Donetsk with armed guards.
Poroshenko, the billionaire head of a confectionary empire, claimed victory in the presidential election on Sunday after exit polls showed he had won 56 percent of the vote, far ahead of his nearest rival Yulia Tymoshenko with less than 13 percent.
But the armed rebellion being waged in the industrial east by pro-Russian separatists meant that voting was thwarted in two regions that together make up around 15 percent of the national electorate — raising concerns among some about the legitimacy of the outcome.
– ‘Not our president’ –
“Let the people who elected him recognise him but for us here he won’t be our president,” said pro-Russian shopkeeper Tetyana Krasikova.
“In the east his election wont change anything,” she said. “The people have been too humiliated, too many have died to go back to the way things were.”
“This is facsim, Nazism — we don’t want this,” said Krasikov, 56, adopting terms used often in the east to describe the government which took power after Yanukovych’s ouster in February in the bloody culmination of months of pro-EU protests.
Armed separatists in camouflage gear and balaclavas were on the streets of the major cities and towns they hold in the east to make good on their threats to block the vote.
Not a single voting centre was open in the main city of Donetsk and across the entire region known as Donbass where the pro-Russian separatists hold sway and only 11 out of 34 constituencies held the election.
Poroshenko has pledged to try to bring peace to Ukraine and end the insurgency, saying his first trip would be to the east.
“I think Poroshenko is only concerned about money. That he would become president was planned from the start of Maidan,” Krasikov said of the protests in Kiev’s Independence Square.
Others in Donetsk threw their support behind the likely new president despite not being able to vote in the election.
“For me it is a positive step — and not only because I like his chocolate,” said small business owner Anton Berdshadsky, 32.
“As a businessman he might be able to help create jobs and develop the economy”.
“Obviously his first challenge will be to solve the situation in the east but what can he do when the army doesn’t work and war is already here? It will be difficult to change the way people think.”