Ukraine´s interim leaders were set to join prayers for peace Saturday on the eve of a crucial presidential vote that Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to respect. Putin has in the past given only grudging backing to the election but on Friday said he was prepared to work with whoever was elected Ukraine´s president in Sunday´s vote.
“We understand that the people of Ukraine want their country to emerge from this crisis,” he said at an economic forum in his home town of Saint Petersburg. “We will treat their choice with respect. “We are today working with those people who control the government and after the election we will of course work with the newly elected authorities.” The Russian leader warned that Ukraine had descended into all-out civil war after a bloody upsurge in separatist violence.
Seven people were killed in fighting between rebels and defence forces outside the eastern industrial hub of Donetsk on Friday, a day after the deaths of 18 soldiers in the heaviest loss for the Ukraine military since the conflict began. Interim President Viktor Yanukovych Turchynov called on voters to turn out in force Sunday to prevent Ukraine “being turned into a part of a post-Soviet empire” by a weeks-long insurgency that Kiev and the West say is being orchestrated by Russia. On Saturday the country´s leaders will take part in prayers for peace in Kiev at 1:00 pm (1000 GMT). Other prayers are expected to take place elsewhere.
The authorities are mobilising tens of thousands of police and volunteers to try to ensure security on polling day, although the pro-Russian separatists are threatening to disrupt the vote in areas under their control in the industrial east. Sunday´s vote is seen as the most crucial since Ukraine´s independence in 1991, with the country facing the threat of partition and teetering on the brink of economic collapse. Billionaire chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko is the favourite, enjoying a near 30-point lead over former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, but opinion polls say the vote is likely to go to a runoff in June. -thnews