"Elections?" said an elderly woman at what was supposed to be a polling station yesterday. "I'm not sure about that."
Searching for a functioning polling station in Donetsk on the eve of Ukraine's presidential elections proved a frustrating task yesterday. Instead of voting booths, ballot boxes and electoral lists the city's designated polling stations contained fear, confusion and occasional denials that a vote was taking place at all.
"People from the election committee haven't visited us yet," said one of the men managing the building at another voting venue in the separatist-controlled city in Ukraine's east. Anti-Kiev authorities in eastern Ukraine have vowed to disrupt the elections today and have waged a campaign of violence and intimidation towards electoral officials; just a day before the vote is due to take place many polling stations were left unprepared.
In the youth centre that would normally house the polling station for the District 42 electoral commission, a few half-constructed wooden booths were propped against one wall. The room where election officials would usually make their office had been locked by separatists the previous day and the key removed.
At the State Administration Building on Artema Street, one of the major thoroughfares of central Donetsk, the room where the officials would usually prepare for elections was empty and there was no evidence of ballots or preparations for the vote. Policemen overseeing security said that the election officials had abandoned their posts there two weeks ago.
In pictures: The Ukraine crisis
In pictures: The Ukraine crisis
1/39 Ukraine crisis
Ukrainian soldiers from the 'Azov' battalion guard their base in Mariupol, Donetsk
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Children were transferred from orphanages in Donetsk and Makeyevka to escape the fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists
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Ukrainian servicemen captured by pro-Russian separatists sit on the ground as they are assigned to clean a street in Snizhne in the Donetsk region
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A view inside the Youth Culture Centre destroyed by pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk
5/39 Ukraine crisis
A woman holds a portrait of her dead son as she speaks during a rally in front of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office in Kiev
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A boy ascends the stairs of a bomb shelter after the shelling in the Petrovskiy district in Donetsk
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A medic looks at thirty coffins prepared for the funerals of pro-Russian rebels killed during heavy fighting at Donetsk airport, outside a Donetsk morgue
8/39 Ukraine crisis
Relatives mourn near the coffin of Mark Zverev, a taxi driver shot dead during clashes at the Donetsk airport between Ukrainian troops and the pro-Russian rebels, during his funeral in the village of Grabari on the outskirts of Donetsk
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Medical workers carry a wounded pro-Russian militant on a stretcher after armed clashes occured between pro-Russian gunmen and Ukrainian troops in Slavyansk
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A member of a newly-formed pro-Russian armed group called the Russian Orthodox Army mans a barricade near Donetsk airport
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Black smoke rises from a shot down Ukrainian Army helicopter outside Slovyansk
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A woman is overcome with emotion as she looks at blood stains and damage around a wrecked truck of supporters of the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic' on road leading to the Donetsk International Airport
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A local man looks at damage near a wrecked truck of supporters of the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic' on road leading to the Donetsk International Airport
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A bloodstained icon of Jesus is seen among blood soaked shattered glass atop a wrecked truck near the Donetsk airport
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A family member attends a funeral for Olga Prokhorenko (60) who was killed by shrapnel after Ukrainian government forces shelled their location, during the funeral in Slovyansk
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A woman reacts after seeing the lifeless body of a man killed by shrapnel following a shelling from Ukrainian government forces in Slovyansk
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Pro-Russian militants take position on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk
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A woman embraces a pro-Russian separatist from the "East" battalion during a rally in the eastern city of Donetsk
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A Ukrainian helicopter Mi-24 gunship fires its cannons against rebels at the main terminal building of Donetsk international airport
20/39 Ukraine crisis
A pro-Russian gunman changes his position near the airport, outside Donetsk
21/39 Ukraine crisis
A pro-Russian gunman aims his weapon near the airport, outside Donetsk. Ukraine's military launched air strikes against separatists who had taken over the airport in the eastern capital of Donetsk in what appeared to be the most visible operation of the Ukrainian troops since they started a crackdown on insurgents
22/39 Ukraine crisis
Pro-Russians ride on a truck in Donetsk. A convoy of an armored personnel carrier and seven trucks carrying several hundred heavily armed men drove through central Donetsk and gunmen got out of the trucks, stood to attention and gave shots in the air in jubilation as a crowd of several thousand supporters cheered them and chanted: "Heroes!"
23/39 Ukraine crisis
An elderly woman leans against the chest of a pro-Russian gunman in Lenin square in Donetsk
24/39 Ukraine crisis
Pro-Russian militants guard a psychiatric hospital after shell explosions during the fighting between pro-Russian militants and the Ukrainian army, in Semyonovka village, outside Slavyansk
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Ukrainian troops stand guard at a checkpoint on the road near the eastern city of Izum, Donetsk
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Members of the Democratic Alliance party take part in a performance in front of the French embassy in Kiev. Protesters set up a pool with the blood of animals and models of warships in a protest against French plans for the sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers to the Russian Navy
27/39 Ukraine crisis
A man carries a portrait of pro-Russian activist Vadim Hudich, who was killed in a shooting incident at the head of a funeral procession in the eastern Ukranian town of Krasnoarmeisk
28/39 Ukraine crisis
A voter is seen inside a voting booth at a polling station during the referendum on the status of Donetsk region in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk
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Members of a local election commission sort ballots as they start counting votes of referendum on the status of Luhansk region in Luhansk
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Members of a local election commission empty a ballot box as they start counting votes of the referendum on the status of Donetsk region in Donetsk
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Members of a local election commission empty ballot boxes as they start counting votes after a referendum, at a polling station in Lugansk
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Local residents watch as others give first aid to a man who was shot in the leg by Ukranian militia in the village of Krasnoarmisk. Eyewitness said that Ukranian militia tried to stop the referendum voters briefly taking the City Hall of Krasnoarmisk, where unarmed pro-Russian supporters were gathering. Reportedly the Ukranian militia came out out the building and started shooting at the people, killing at least one man and leaving at least two others injured
33/39 Ukraine crisis
Members of a local election commission count votes after a referendum organized by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic members at a polling station in Donetsk
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Voters visit a polling station to take part in the referendum on the status of Donetsk
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An Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) with a Russian flag drives through the center of Slaviansk during the day of referendum organized by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic members in Slavyansk
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A statue of Lenin is placed in front of a pro-Russian barricade on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk
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A feamle veteran (C) sings during 'Victory Day' celebrations in Donetsk
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People stand near the burning Mariupol police station
39/39 Ukraine crisis
Ukrainian soldiers stand guard beside an armoured personnel carrier at a checkpoint in Mariupol. Ukrainian forces seized the rebel-held city hall in the eastern port city of Mariupol, driving out pro-Russian activists, then withdrew, making no attempt to hold onto the building
On the second floor of the building, separatists in military fatigues were guarding a room containing unassembled ballot boxes. The men said that a Ukrainian presidential election could not take place inside the "Donetsk People's Republic".
"We asked the Ukrainian government to open a Ukrainian embassy to allow Ukrainians to vote here but they haven't given us permission yet," explained Alexiy Garonon, 25. "You need to understand that it is wrong to organise an election in the territory of another country."
The streets of central Donetsk were empty. Many shops and restaurants had shut and even the city's three branches of McDonald's, often noted for its resilience in times of civil strife, were all closed.
By contrast, in Kiev, there was an uneasy calm across the city with shops, cafes and bars open for business. Many people were reported to have visited voting stations in schools, hospitals and other public buildings before today's election, when long queues are expected.
In Donetsk, Sergei Grichko, a member of the District 42 election committee, said that polling stations would only open on Sunday if they had adequate security. "I wont let people work without good protection," he said.
There will, however, be more than 1,000 observers monitoring the elections. Turnout is predicted to be high in Ukraine's west but it is thought that few will be able to vote in the separatist-controlled areas in the east, where 15 per cent of the population live. Polling will not take place in Russian-annexed Crimea.
Petro Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate campaigning on a pro-Western ticket, is widely expected to win the election. His closest rival is the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. If neither succeeds in gaining 50 per cent of the vote, a second round of elections will be held in June.
It is hoped that the election of a new president will help end the chaos that has engulfed the country in recent months. But there are fears the latest divisions will prove impossible to heal. "People from western Ukraine hate us because their soldiers died here," said Victoria, 30, who was returning from a shopping trip with her father yesterday. "They think we all support the Donetsk People's Republic. In the common imagination now, we are killers."
Her father Vladimir, 55, expressed frustration at both the election and the current situation. "There will be no united country here any more," he said. "I have friends in western Ukraine, we lived together happily. I don't know who didn't like that life. So why has this happened now?"