Armed pro-Russian separatists arrived at Donetsk airport early on Monday, demanding Ukrainian forces to withdraw, causing an immediate headache for Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko, who said his first priority would be to end the conflict in the country’s east.
Officials said there had been “shots and confrontation” and that all flights had been suspended at Sergei Prokofiev airport, which serves Ukraine’s most populous province.
Poroshenko claimed victory in Sunday’s election, based on exit polls. At a victory rally in Kiev, the 48-year-old said, “The first steps of our entire team at the beginning of the presidency will concentrate on ending the war, ending the chaos, ending the disorder and bringing peace to Ukrainian soil, to a united, single Ukraine. Our decisive actions will bring this result fairly quickly.”
Voter turnout was about 60%. The distant second-place candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko, said the democratic and fair election in the face of “the current aggression by the Kremlin” was “evidence of the strength of our nation.”
Voting was, however, severely disrupted in the restive east. Only 426 of 2,430 polling stations were open in Donetsk province, and no stations opened in the provincial capital, also called Donetsk. Polling booths failed to open in the city of Luhansk, a separatist stronghold.
Some 20 people have died in battles with security forces in recent days, with insurgents having unilaterally declared independence from Ukraine. The region has been in turmoil since the popular ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych in February and the Russian annexation of Crimea in March.
Poroshenko said he would strengthen ties with the E.U. and that he would never recognize Russia’s “occupation of Crimea.”
A day before the vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would “cooperate with the authorities that will come to power as a result of the election,” however he added that he still considered Yanukovych to be Ukraine’s legitimate President.
Former world-champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, who was one of the leading figures in the Euromaidan movement that brought down Yanukovych, claimed that he had won Kiev’s politically significant mayoral election, also based on exit polls.