Washington, May 23
Just two days before Ukraine's presidential elections on May 25, violence continued in the country's east, where separatists propose to follow the example of Crimea and join the Russian Federation. Despite turmoil, Ukrainians appear determined to cast their ballots in the hope that a new, legitimate government will bring peace and stability.
Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donietsk region on Thursday showed reporters weapons they claim were seized during an ambush on the Ukrainian military Thursday. At least 14 soldiers were killed in the attack.
International observers have called for the violence will subside by Sunday so the election can take place as planned.
"I do hope that there will be no military force used between now and the end of the electoral process in order to allow the electoral process to go forward," said OSCE's Wolfgang Ischinger.
Polls show wealthy businessman Petro Poroshenko ahead of two of his closest rivals, says Ukrainian analyst Andriy Bychenko.
"Comparing the main candidates, Yulia Tymoshenko, Sergei Tegipko and Petro Poroshenko, we can confidently say that Poroshenko will win, if not in the first round, then definitely in the second round," said Bychenko.
A retired teacher in Kyiv says he does not like any of the candidates.
"Again we have been asked to choose the best among the bad and the worse. We've been doing this for the last 23 years. When the time comes, we should vote for a wonderful future, consciously," he said.
Many Ukrainians say they will vote for the candidate that seems most likely to win.
"I think that we don't have a perfect candidate yet, as the one we would want. People are coming to me, asking who to vote for, I recommend to vote according to the poll results for the one who is in the lead," said retired Cossack commander Taras Senyk.
This is not unusual, says political scientist Graeme Robertson at the University of North Carolina.
"It's really important here because Ukraine's biggest problem right now is the lack of a government that is seen as legitimate," said Robertson.
Robertson says a big voter turnout would give some legitimacy to the new president, but that's not enough.
"If he can get in a new government that reflects some eastern interest, if he can get a new government that isolates some of the extremists that are in the current government, particularly in the security apparatus - then this, I think, will make a significant difference and it will be a big change in the atmosphere," he said.
The winner will not have an easy task, warns former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst.
"He or she will face a major, major set of problems and the first problem is the Russian aggression. The second problem is the whole issue of the economic stability of the country," said Herbst.
Herbst said that continued Russian aggression could hamper Ukraine's economic recovery. And he added that Moscow's plans are far from clear.
"After weeks of saying that the elections are illegitimate, they agreed to the OSCE sending observers to monitor the elections and they’ve been making different types of statement - some critical of the elections and some saying: 'well, perhaps they can be helpful,' in recent days. So they are prepared to go either way," he said.
If no candidate wins the first round of elections on May 25, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a June 15 runoff vote.