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Fear and confusion in eastern Ukraine ahead of vote

Donetsk, Ukraine (CNN)

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  1. Travel from the capital Kiev to parts of eastern Ukraine, and you encounter two different countries.

     

    While the checkpoints and barricades in the Maidan in Kiev are now mostly backdrops for tourist photos, in the east, they are the scenes of a new explosion of violence.

     

    In the past 24 hours, several clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian militants have left more than 30 people dead and dozens more wounded across eastern Ukraine, the volatile region that’s the new flashpoint between the West and Moscow.

  2. In Donetsk and surrounding districts, many people we met expressed fear and confusion.

     

    A woman standing guard outside an apartment building near Donetsk told me, "I can't understand the intentions of people wearing masks and carrying weapons. I had been planning to vote Sunday but now I don't know. I don't see how any of the candidates can end this. I just want peace."

     

    The challenges to Sunday's presidential vote are growing more severe.

     

    Here, the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic made a show of destroying ballot boxes in public.

  3.  And as we travelled outside Donetsk, to the district of Makiyivka, we saw even worse.

     

    We found the district election headquarters for Makiyivka sealed shut, with piles of election manuals, ballots and monitors' ID cards smoldering outside.

  4. The election commissioner told me that masked men, armed with machine guns and grenades, raided the building Thursday and forced him and his colleagues to shut it down. He said their uniforms and weapons made him believe some of the militants were Russian soldiers.

     

    "They threatened us at gunpoint," he said. "Women fainted. I told them I'd do whatever they want."

     

    And so he and his colleagues gathered up their election materials and watched as the militants lit them on fire. The militants struck again at the district's other election headquarters as well. And so now all 116 polling stations in this district, serving some 360,000 people, are closed.

  5. When I asked him if Donetsk could hold a free and fair election on Sunday, he repeated, "There will not be any election. There will not be any election. No one can make it happen.”

     

    Ukrainian and Western officials hope that the violence and interference here is not repeated elsewhere and so overall voter turnout will be high enough to allow a credible and legitimate election.

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