What next for Donetsk? Many confused after vote to split from Ukraine

Referendum leaves residents wondering what country they now live in

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 9:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 9:14pm

A day after the people of Donetsk apparently voted overwhelmingly to split from Ukraine, an eerie calm reigned on the streets as people wondered what country they had woken up in.

Unlike a similar referendum in the peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, there were no wild celebrations, no sense of joy, just slight confusion about the future and a lingering anger towards the leaders in Kiev.

Taxi driver Dmytro Boyko, 36, said as he waited to collect his daughter from school that many in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk were "frightened by what has happened and by the future".

"We do not know what will happen, nor who will lead us but in any case, we couldn't stand by and do nothing," he said.

Boyko was unequivocal in blaming the Western-backed leaders in Kiev for the recent unrest that has brought the former Soviet Republic to the brink of civil war.

"The new government took bad decisions and communicated them badly. It's a shame because after that, things escalated quickly.

"This referendum was the only way to express our disagreement with the powers that be."

According to "official" results from Sunday's referendum in the Donetsk region of some 4.7 million people, nearly 90 per cent voted for independence, with a turnout of 75 percent.

Monday therefore marked the first day of the so-called People's Republic of Donetsk, although no one apart from Russia is ever likely to recognise the break-away entity.

The "referendum" was a chaotic affair that fell far short of international democratic standards. In the port city of Mariupol, population nearly half a million, there were only four ballot boxes.

And the biggest question now for the people of the world's newest self-proclaimed republic is how they will be governed. Not many were sure.

"I can't say exactly what will happen in the future but it won't be any worse. This I am 100 per cent sure of," said Veronika, a 50-year-old schoolteacher.

A former coal mine rescue worker, who did not wish to give his name, was more optimistic.

"I expect some changes now, for the better of course. The government has squeezed us from both sides, with pensions staying at the same level after they promised increases, and the minimum wage also the same," he said.

The question exercising the minds of Western leaders is whether the two referendums, in Donetsk province and in neighbouring Lugansk, will result in eastern Ukraine joining Russia.

Many going calmly about their business on Monday said the recent violence that has wracked eastern and southern Ukraine had turned them firmly against the West and Kiev, which they blame for the unrest, and towards the Kremlin.

"A couple of weeks ago I would have voted for being a federation as part of Ukraine, but after the events in Odessa, Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, and Krasnoarmiysk yesterday, I think there's no future in this country for us in the east," said IT worker Andriy, referring to places that have recently experienced deadly violence.

Pensioner Anna seemed to sum up the confusion surging through the region.

"For me, I am still in Ukraine but who knows where we will be tomorrow; it is a madhouse," she said.