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Eastern Ukrainian Separatists Say Referendum Is On Despite Putin’s Plea

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Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine agreed Thursday to go ahead with a referendum on autonomy a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin urged postponing the vote.

The coordinating committee of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic met Thursday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk and said afterward that the referendum would happen on Sunday as planned, the Associated Press reports. It’s unclear how the Kremlin will respond.

Putin said Wednesday the referendum should be postponed and claimed that Russian troops amassed along the border had pulled back, two moves apparently aimed at deescalating tensions in the region. Putin, however, maintained his calls for Ukraine’s military to cease operations against separatists that have spawned deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine.

The separatists’ announcement coincided with military exercises in Russia on Thursday involving the country’s nuclear forces, though those exercises have been planned since November.

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Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com