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Donbas Separatists Using Cheap Eggs, Salary Hikes, Corny Videos To Get Out The Vote

A Donetsk resident with a separatist "passport" waits to vote early in unrecognized elections organized in eastern Ukraine.
A Donetsk resident with a separatist "passport" waits to vote early in unrecognized elections organized in eastern Ukraine.

Discount chickens and eggs, credits for mobile phones, and salary rises. All just for turning up.

But there's a catch. Takers must cast ballots in unrecognized polls that Russia-backed separatists are holding in regions of eastern Ukraine under their control on November 11, thereby thumbing their noses at much of the world.

Despite many international calls for the voting to be canceled, separatist leaders who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are not only ignoring those pleas but pulling out all the stops to get residents caught up in Europe's only active war zone to vote and lend the process some semblance of legitimacy.

Along with the cut-rate prices on foodstuffs available at the polling stations in the region, broadly referred to as the Donbas, the vote's organizers planned to distribute vouchers worth 100 Russian rubles -- a de facto currency in separatist-held areas -- for mobile phones and to hold fairs and lotteries.

Controversy has already broken out on social media about how many vouchers will be given away, with some saying only early voters will get one.

A corny campaign video -- a takeoff from the trendy "skibidi challenge" craze -- has also appeared on YouTube showing nattily dressed young people dancing as they march to the polling booths in an effort to inspire would-be voters.

And if none of those things are quite enough to entice people into the voting booths, separatist officials are apparently also offering a little bit of the "stick."

"It is known that chiefs of state bodies, companies, and other entities [in the Donbas] received instructions to prepare lists of people who would vote for [acting head of the separatist group known as the Luhansk People's Republic, Leonid] Pasechnyk. And people who planned not to vote for him were threatened with being fired," Irina Nikulnikova, deputy director of the Eastern Human Rights Group, told RFE/RL.

She added that a possible challenger to Pasechnyk, Luhansk Distillery Director Leonid Derzhak, was not allowed to register as a candidate.

Separatists backed by Russia have been battling Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region since 2014 -- the same year Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula -- in fighting that has killed more than 10,300 people and forced hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes.

Opposition to the holding of the elections in the separatist regions -- which in addition to military hardware and forces have also received massive financial and political support from Moscow, although Russian officials deny any participation -- has been fierce.

"I expect that the fake elections that Russia decided to hold on November 11 will prompt the imposition of new sanctions and show that the West's patience is not unlimited," said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on November 7. "It is time now to talk not about easing the sanctions on Russia but about tightening them."

UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said the elections are "outside Ukraine's constitutional and legal framework would be incompatible with the Minsk agreements," a reference to the accords aimed at resolving the crisis that were signed in the Belarusian capital in 2015.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Cohen called them "sham elections staged by Russia" at a UN Security Council meeting on October 31 as eight European countries called on Russia to "bring its considerable influence to bear to stop the so-called 'elections' from taking place."

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by Mykhaylo Shtekel of the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service's Donbas Desk.
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    Mykhaylo Shtekel

    Mykhaylo Shtekel has been a correspondent in Odesa for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service since 2017. Shtekel, who began his career in journalism in 2003, has covered the Donbas conflict and issues related to the annexation of Crimea for various Ukrainian TV channels and has experience working in conflict zones.

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    Pete Baumgartner

    Pete Baumgartner is the editor for Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and the Balkans for RFE/RL's Central Newsroom in Prague.