Self-proclaimed authorities in rebel-held sections of eastern Ukraine say prominent pro-Russian separatist figures have won elections denounced by the West and dismissed by President Petro Poroshenko as a "farce."
Separatist election officials said that Aleksandr Zakharchenko was elected to head the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic with almost 79 percent of the vote and that Igor Plotnitsky garnered almost 64 percent of the vote to become leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, according to a full count of ballots cast on November 2.
"Kyiv should put up with the fact that the Donbas is no longer part of Ukraine," said Roman Lyagin, a separatist election official in Donetsk, using the term to describe an industrial section of eastern Ukraine that partially coincides with the territory held by pro-Russian rebels.
"Whether they acknowledge the expression of our will or refuse to recognize it, that is Kyiv's business. We have decided it all for ourselves," he said at a news conference after declaring Zakharchenko the victor.
Critics of the separatists said Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky faced no real opposition in the votes, which were held in defiance of Kyiv and the West but portrayed by Russia as a reflection of "the will of the people" in rebel-controlled portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the elections "illegal and illegitimate" and an "obstacle to peace" in eastern Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the elections went "against the letter and spirit" of an internationally brokered September 5 truce deal that was meant to halt the war, and urged Russia to respect "the unity of Ukraine."
"We will judge Russia and President [Vladimir] Putin on their statements that the unity of Ukraine cannot be called into question," he said on Twitter.
In accordance with the September 5 deal, which was meant to end a conflict between the government and rebels that has killed more than 4,000 people since April, Poroshenko's government granted the rebel-held areas limited self-rule for a three-year period but insisted that local elections must be held under Ukrainian law.
WATCH: Hundreds of people took to the streets of Kyiv to protest against elections in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine on November 2. The protesters marched from the Maidan, the scene of the revolution, chanting slogans and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)
Analysts said the separatist elections would only solidify the standoff between Kyiv and the separatists, giving Russia a lever of influence by setting the rebel-held regions further apart from the rest of Ukraine and potentially creating a new "frozen conflict" like those Kremlin critics say Moscow has encouraged elsewhere in the former Soviet Union to maintain clout.
Russia denies any role in the conflict, despite what its critics say is overwhelming evidence of involvement, and has not formally recognized the separatist-held territories as sovereign states.
There was no immediate comment from Putin.
But in a brief Foreign Ministry statement on November 3, Moscow made clear it saw the elections as legitimate -- and turned up the pressure on Kyiv to reckon with the rebels.
"The elected representatives received a mandate to solve the practical tasks regarding the restoration of normal life in the regions," it said.
"Taking into account the elections that have taken place, it is extremely important to take active steps to establish a stable dialogue between the central Ukrainian authorities and representatives of the Donbas within the framework of the Minsk agreements," it said.
Ukraine's military said on November 2 that Russia had launched an “intensive deployment of military equipment and personnel” from Russia into parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by the separatists.
AFP reporters near Donetsk said they saw a military column of about 20 trucks, some carrying antiaircraft guns, heading toward the government-held airport, although it was not clear whether they were new forces.
Several other Western media outlets also reported witnessing heavy movements of troops near Donetsk.
“We also caution Russia against using any such illegitimate vote as a pretext to insert additional troops and military equipment into Ukraine,” "The Wall Street Journal" quoted Mark Stroh, a spokesman for the U.S. White House's National Security Council, as saying.
It was unclear how many people were able to vote as rebel officials said they had no access to central Ukrainian electoral rolls.
A rebel election official said that 350 polling stations were open and that 1.4 million people were eligible to vote.
In Donetsk, correspondents reported pro-Russian gunmen inside and outside several polling stations as voters were casting ballots.
The AP news agency reported that an armed man in military fatigues had successfully voted despite being from Ukraine's Odesa region.
The vote was largely ignored by international vote monitors, but a contingent of representatives from largely fringe Western and Russian political parties observed the vote.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and TASS