Separatist authorities here argue that the vote in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk "People's Republics" will legitimize their fledgling statelets. It is the first opportunity for pro-Russian separatists to choose their leaders since a slipshod referendum on independence was held here in May.
The West's strong condemnation of Sunday's vote and the ongoing hostilities, now in their seventh month, didn't keep people in Donetsk and surrounding cities from lining up to cast their ballots when the polls opened at 8 a.m., local time. Lines of hundreds of people snaked through yards outside schools where the ballot boxes were kept and guarded by several gunmen clad in military garb.
Voters were to choose both a new leader and new legislature in both Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Zakharchenko is expected to win Sunday's vote by a wide margin, becoming the breakaway region of Donetsk's first president. Meanwhile, Igor Plotnitsky is the favorite to win in neighboring Luhansk.
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