The vote, with a turn-out of 75 per cent, suggested profound discontent with the established order and revealed many of the same forces that led to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's success in Russia last December.
The Ukrainian economy, almost untouched by reform but in deeper trouble than Russia's, has been ravaged by hyperinflation and industrial collapse.
Sunday's poll delivered a firm rebuke to President Leonid Kravchuk, who said that he expected the vote to fail because of apathy. A flop would have given Mr Kravchuk an excuse to declare presidential rule.
Preliminary results indicate a strong showing for radical nationalists in the west of Ukraine and Russian unionists in the east and Crimea. With nearly 6,000 candidates standing for 450 seats, most contests will go to a second round to be held in two weeks' time.
Among clear winners in the first round were two candidates of the Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), a far-right group that campaigned under the slogan 'Force, Order, Prosperity', used a stylised swastika as its emblem and rallied votes by marching through Lvov and other western towns wearing military fatigues and black berets. UNA, which has its own military wing called the Ukrainian National Self Defence (UNSO), also did surprisingly well in Kiev.
The Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, a slightly less extreme body, won two seats as well. The dominant nationalist group is still Rukh, a more mainstream organisation. Its leader, Vyacheslav Chornovil won easily, but he warned that fringe nationalists were not an aberration: 'The influence of UNA-UNSO will grow so long as the economy continues to deteriorate,' he said.
He also alleged widespread vote-rigging and criticised an electoral system that penalised parties and favoured local barons. Foreign observers disagreed on how free and fair the vote was. A group led by the Conservative MP, Peter Emery, declared the election 'quite successful' and dismissed bewildering rules enacted by the old Soviet-era parliament as a 'technical' problem. The US Republican Party was far more critical. 'They have missed a critical opportunity to create the culture of healthy democracy,' said David Nummy, its spokesman.
In addition to parliamentary polls, three referendums in Russian-speaking regions challenged Kiev's authority in large swathes of territory. Voters in eastern Ukraine's coal-mining Donbass voted by a margin of 10 to one in favour of closer links with Russia. Crimea, home of the disputed Black Sea Fleet and perhaps the most volatile flashpoint, voted overwhelmingly for yet more autonomy.
The most sensitive issue is Ukraine's relations with Russia, which provides nearly all of Ukraine's energy, considers the Black Sea its own and promises to protect a Russian diaspora of 25 million, the largest portion of which - some 12 million people - lives in Ukraine.
'A new union of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine is inevitable,' said Yuri Boldyrev, deputy mayor of Donetsk. The Communist and Socialist parties, which campaigned as outsiders in many areas in opposition to the so-called Party of Power of President Kravchuk, won five seats outright in Donetsk and put another 18 candidates through to the second round.
The results suggest a fragmented parliament that will have more reform-minded democrats and nationalists than the last one.
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