May 15, 2014 5:58 AM EDT

Rebel Vote Fuels Uncertainty in Eastern Ukraine

Separatist militants in two regions of eastern Ukraine declared their right to split from the central government in Kiev after a hastily organized plebiscite on May 11. Though there were no clear voting rules or professional observers at the ballot, its pro-Russian organizers claimed a turnout of more than 80%, with some 90% voting in favor of “self-determination.”

Kiev tried hard to stop the vote from proceeding, even sending military units to block polling stations by force, leading to the deaths of at least two unarmed civilians during clashes in the town of Krasnoarmeysk. But the condemnations from Kiev and from Ukraine’s allies in the U.S. and Europe did not stop the separatists from celebrating victory. If their legitimacy had previously derived only from the barrel of a gun, they can now point to a referendum of sorts in making their claim for independence.

That brings them one step closer to their ultimate goal of creating a new sovereign entity on the map, one that they hope Russia will agree to annex into its territory as it did with Ukraine’s Crimea region in March. So far, Russia has said it “respects” the votes as an expression of the public’s will, but President Vladimir Putin has avoided commenting at length. With armed separatists still in control of government buildings and even entire towns in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, there seems to be little that Western sanctions and condemnations can do to stop these regions from drifting further from Kiev’s control.

The next potential flash point is Ukraine’s presidential election, planned for May 25, the first since the country’s pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych was ousted earlier this year. The interim administration in Kiev and its Western backers are hoping the vote bolsters the legitimacy of the post-Yanukovych order. But the ongoing unrest in the east may yet undermine the planned ballot.

DENMARK

‘I’m just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard.’

CONCHITA WURST, the alter ego of Austrian singer Tom Neuwirth, before winning the Eurovision song contest–an annual competition featuring pop-music acts from in and around Europe–in Copenhagen on May 10

DATA

ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION

A new World Health Organization report shows that 3.3 million people die each year from alcohol use. Here’s a look at annual alcohol intake around the world in liters per person over age 14:

15.1 Russia

12.2 Australia

11 South Africa

9.2 U.S.

6.7 China

Three Essential Facts About

Syria’s Presidential “Election”

Syria is preparing to hold a presidential election on June 3, an exercise meant to bolster dictator Bashar Assad as the brutal civil war inside the Middle Eastern nation rages on.

A NATION IN CHAOS

With millions displaced by the ongoing conflict, the government’s decision to hold elections has been criticized both by Western countries and by the Arab League, which said the conditions on the ground meant that the poll could not be “fair, democratic and credible.”

NO SURPRISES

Assad won the previous “election” in 2007 uncontested and declared that 98% of voters had chosen him to lead the country. This time, in a token effort at credibility, the regime has allowed two little-known lawmakers, Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar and Hassan bin Abdullah al-Nouri, to appear on the ballot. But the results are expected to show a victory for Assad.

OBSTRUCTION TO PEACE

Both the Arab League and the U.N. have said the elections will hamper efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Syria’s decision to go ahead with them was reported to be a factor behind the May 13 resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.–Arab League envoy for Syria.

Tragedy Underground

TURKEY

A man kisses his son, who was rescued from a coal mine in western Turkey after an explosion and fire that resulted in the deaths of at least 240 people on May 13. More than 100 people were still believed to be trapped underground a day later, in one of the country’s worst industrial disasters. Protests erupted across the nation after the calamity, which highlighted Turkey’s poor record on workplace safety.

The Explainer

The Prospect of “Killer Robots”

Diplomats met in Geneva on May 13 for the first multilateral U.N. talks on the risks of creating fully autonomous weapons that could kill without human input, days after Human Rights Watch said such “killer robots” would threaten fundamental rights.

Origin story

Over the past few years, the U.S., the U.K. and South Korea have developed drones with technology that could be repurposed to create machines with the ability to open fire without human input.

Early backlash

In 2013 opposition groups formed the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to push for a ban on further developing or deploying the technology, a move that’s drawn support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others.

The defense

Proponents of such technology say a research ban is premature, because the weaponry could one day be more discerning than humans in the high-stress environment of the battlefield, reducing collateral damage.

Future plans

Opponents hope the U.N. will issue a ban by 2016, but it may take years more to materialize. A similar pre-emptive ban on blinding lasers, proposed to the U.N. in 1987, was issued only in 1995 and went into effect three years later.

SWITZERLAND

22

Minimum hourly wage, in Swiss francs–$25–proposed in a national referendum to be held on May 18; if approved, it will be the world’s highest

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DEMOCRACY

Some 550 million people voted in India’s general elections, with a record turnout of over 66%; results are due May 16

REUNIONS

A cat was returned to its owner in Japan’s Iwate prefecture more than three years after the pet disappeared during the 2011 tsunami

RESEARCH

Nereus, a deep-sea submersible, is believed to have imploded on a scientific mission 6.2 miles underwater near New Zealand

SPORTS

A worker died in an accident at a stadium in Brazil–the eighth death connected to preparations for the World Cup

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This appears in the May 26, 2014 issue of TIME.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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