Despite widespread international criticism, pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine are planning to go ahead with a referendum concerning the region’s secession. On Sunday, Ukrainians in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the country will head to the polls and vote.
The leader of the self-declared “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” Boris Litvinov, tells CNN that he expects a 70% turnout to answer the question: "Do you support the Act of Independence of People's Republic of Donetsk?"
Controversy even surrounds the wording of the ballot. The New York Times writes that “the wording had people baffled. Some interpret this phrase as a vote for more local autonomy, some for independence and still others as a step toward inviting annexation by Russia.”
But whatever voters decide, will it even matter? The referendum has virtually zero support internationally, with German chancellor Angela Merkel declaring the vote “illegitimate.” Even Russian president Vladimir Putin is calling for a delay, if only to give the idea "the conditions it needs to have a chance."
And Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, had harsh words for the planned vote, calling it “self destructive.”
On his website, Turchynov elaborated, saying “Those who call for independence do not realize that it is full destruction of economy, social programs and life in general for the most people in this area."
But a vote for independence isn’t a done deal. According to a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday, 77% of Ukrainians want to keep the country united while only 14% would like to see independent regions.
The referendum will follow several incidents of violence in eastern Ukraine. Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the so-called "people's mayor" of the city Slavyansk, recently told the press that 20 people had been killed and 30 wounded since the start of armed combat in the city.
That same day, Putin himself made his first visit to recently annexed Crimea, attending “Victory Day” rallies in the port city of Sevastopol.