26 December 2004 -- Today marks a decisive moment for Ukraine after weeks of protests and political upheaval.
The nation's voters are choosing whether to continue President Leonid Kuchma's policy of closer integration with Russia, as represented by Viktor Yanukovych, or whether to change course and follow Viktor Yushchenko's Western-oriented "Orange Revolution."
After last month's fraudulent balloting, mass demonstrations and international mediation, all eyes are focused on whether Ukraine can pull off a clean ballot whose results will be clear and accepted by all sides.
So far, indications are that voting is proceeding smoothly. An unprecedented 12,000 elections monitors have been registered to observe the vote, compared to 5,000 the last time around.
Voters are casting ballots at 33,000 polling stations across this country of 48 million people. Ukrainian media report that voter turnout appears to be down from the previous two rounds of voting.
One monitor from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Sandra Gayle, had this assessment from a polling station in the capital, Kyiv: "It's going very well. We haven't found any violations. It's all going to plan. We're very happy with it. And everyone's very excited about the election."
Reporter: "Do you think it will be much better this time?"
Gayle: "I think so, yes."
Both rival candidates cast their ballots in Kyiv. Yushchenko, accompanied by his wife and five children -- all dressed in the
orange colors of his opposition movement -- said he is "100 percent" confident of victory.
He said the past month of protests, which led to today's new round of voting, has been a proud moment in Ukraine's history. "The main thing is that the people win. This is the best thing," he said. "I was coming today to the polling station to vote and was thinking how many millions of people wanted to see Ukraine as it has become now. What happened in these 30 days was the aim of our past generations. And I am sure they are watching us from the heavens and they are applauding our deeds."
Yanukovych, for his part, said he, too, believes Ukraine has arrived at a historic moment and that he represents the best future for the country.
Yanukovych: "I am waiting for the Ukrainian people to make the right choice."
Reporter: "Who did you vote for?"
Yanukovych: "I voted for the future of Ukraine and for the future of the Ukrainian people."
President Leonid Kuchma -- who is due to leave office after 10 years in power marred by a series of scandals -- said he hopes for a smooth transition of power. He appealed to both sides to respect the outcome of today's vote.
"I made the sign of the cross that this would be the last election, and I am sure it will be so. And I think that the one who loses should call his opponent and congratulate him, and this will be the final moment of this long electoral process. Most nations can't cope with such a long election campaign, especially Ukraine in its current circumstances," Kuchma said.
Polls are due to close at 8 p.m. local time (UTC/GMT +2) today.
(compiled from agency and staff reports)[For more RFE/RL coverage and analysis of the political crisis around the presidential elections in Ukraine, click here.]