Cheap Bread and Problems: How Occupied Donbas Elected New "Leaders"
11 November, 2018

Residents of Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions went to the polling stations as the regions elected new so-called leaders on November 11. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly called on the people of occupied Donbas not to take part and for additional sanctions to be placed on Russia in connection to the voting. Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, even warned about the criminal consequences.

“I would like to assure everyone involved in carrying out these illegal events that there are no grounds to believe they can avoid accountability for their actions, as well as warn them that they only get one chance to abstain from engaging in a crime before it’s too late,” he said.

A man performs at a polling station in occupied Donetsk during the so-called elections on November 11, 2018. Photo credit: social media

While President Petro Poroshenko in a video address declared the elections a “sham” and described the process as “Russia getting rid of their previous puppets in order to elect new, predetermined ones."

Nevertheless, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) declared a turnout of over 65%. Photographs published in some separatist media suggest that this may be the case. So were the elections really so popular and what is actually going in the Donbas?

The Illusion of Choice

Five candidates are hoping to become the new head of the occupied part of Donetsk region. These people are the current acting leader and Kremlin’s favorite Denis Pushilin, judge Elena Shishkina, former official Vladimir Medvedev, Roman Yevstifeyev, who heads the museum of the Union of Afghan War Veterans, and a lesser-known candidate Roman Khramenkov.

Residents of occupied Donetsk cast their ballots during the so-called election on November 11, 2018. Photo credit: EPA-EFE / Alexander Ermochenko

In Luhansk, four candidates all hope to become the head of the occupied region. This includes the current acting head of Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) Leonid Pasechnik, head of the so-called Trade Union of Education Workers Oleg Koval, head of local department of the Luhansk Economic Union movement Liudmila Rusnak and head of the Trade Union of Railroad Transport Workers Nataliya Sergun.

However, it is believed that the new leaders were elected long before the election day, as there is little doubt that residents of occupied Donbas will go for the Kremlin-installed “politicians” Pushilin and Pasechnik, who hold power in the regions, as opposed to the lesser-known candidates.

Fewer Polling Stations

Vitaliy Sizov, analyst at Donetsk Information Institute believes that the reason the polling stations were so full on November 11 is because both regions reduced the number of polling stations operating during the election by two to three times.

According to his article for Novosti Donbassa (Donbas News) news site, in 2010, when Ukraine elected President Viktor Yanukovych, there were 480 polling stations in Donetsk alone. Back then, nearly 4.4 million people lived in the Donetsk region and 2,510 stations worked for them. Since then, the population in the Donetsk region has gone down to 2.3 million, according to the DPR “authorities’” data.

Residents of occupied Donetsk cast their ballots during the so-called election on November 11, 2018. Photo credit: EPA-EFE / Alexander Ermochenko

Theoretically, for a population half the size of the pre-war one, there would need to be over a thousand stations working, Sizov argues. But the so-called DPR launched a mere 408 stations for a big region like Donetsk.

A similar situation is in place in the so-called LPR where 316 polling stations opened their doors for the region’s voters. Before war, these people enjoyed the luxury of nearly 1,000 stations.

“This is enough to create a [seemingly] huge turnout,” Sizov concludes.

Using All Means

Threats and pressure to vote could be another reason people went to the polls, our sources in the region, whose names we cannot disclose for safety reasons, reveal.

One student of the Donetsk technical institute said that they were told to take part in the elections because otherwise the entire faculty and all their teachers would get a scolding.

Denis Pushilin (C) votes at a polling station in occupied Donetsk. It is pretty much a guaranteed victory for Pushilin as the rest of the candidates seem to serve a decorative role. Photo credit: EPA-EFE / Alexander Ermochenko

“Everyone will be having problems then,” a representative of the university committee reiterated the words he heard to Hromadske.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) also claims that some polling stations sold cheap groceries to lure more voters.

“Stalls selling cheaper-than-usual bread (but no more than two loaves per person), vegetables and oil were set up at the polling stations,” a status on the official Facebook page of the organization reads.

/Translated by Maria Romanenko