Pro-Europe parties won a sweeping victory in a crucial parliamentary election that Ukrainians hope will strengthen the country after a year of political turmoil and months of warfare against Russian-supported separatists in the east.
Partial results released on October 27 showed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's People's Front and President Petro Poroshenko's bloc in a virtual tie with 21.6 percent and 21.51 percent, respectively.
With about 40 percent of the ballots counted from the October 26 election, Samopomich (Self-Reliance), a pro-European party based in western Ukraine, was third with 11 percent.
Poroshenko said on national television late on October 26 that voters had given "strong and irreversible backing to Ukraine's path to Europe."
He said the vote demonstrated support for "political methods" to end the conflict with pro-Russian separatists who hold swathes of populous eastern Ukraine after fighting that has killed more than 3,700 people since April and persists despite a September 5 cease-fire.
In a statement on the presidential website, Poroshenko thanked voters for backing a "democratic, reformist, pro-Ukrainian and pro-European majority."
He said coalition talks would begin on October 27 and called the People's Front the "main partner" for his bloc.
Three other parties were on track to clear the 5 percent barrier and enter the single-chamber Verkhovna Rada, including the Opposition Bloc, which was joined by many members of ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych's defunct Party of Regions.
The Opposition Bloc had 9.7 percent, followed by populist Oleh Lyashko's Radical Party, with 7.5 percent, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchina (Fatherland) party, with 5.8 percent.
The Communist Party appeared on track to be shut out of the Rada for the first time since Ukraine gained independence in the Soviet collapse of 1991.
The partial results include only voting by party, which is to fill half the parliament seats. The rest will go to winners of races in individual electoral districts.
Partial results showed Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the ultranationalist group Right Sector, with a comfortable lead in his district in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Poroshenko called the early poll in a bid to set Ukraine on a new path eight months after Yanukovych was ousted following opposition protests he touched off by scrapping plans to tighten ties with the European Union and turning to Russia instead.
Russia responded to Yanukovych's ouster by annexing the Crimea region in March, and Kyiv and the West accuse Moscow of sending troops and arms to support pro-Russian rebellions that erupted in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.
WATCH: Poroshenko Thanks Voters For Supporting 'Course Toward Europe'
About five million voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of Luhansk and Donetsk did not take part in the elections.
Poll officials said 15 out of 32 district election commissions in the two provinces did not operate during the vote, meaning that 27 of the 450 seats in parliament will be left vacant.
Yatsenyuk, who is a fierce critic of Russia and is popular among Western governments for his support for economic reforms, said on October 26 that a governing coalition would have to be formed "as quickly as possible."
"This is to be a very pro-reform and pro-European, smart and even tough coalition," he said. "Because the new government, together with the new parliament, is to pass a number of austerity packages, and a number of reforms that are not easy for the people in a short-term perspective."
Radical Party leader Lyashko said the election presented "a unique opportunity for the first time to get a Ukrainian parliament that would lead Ukraine to Europe and towards NATO."
Polls showed a majority of Ukrainians support economic and democratic reforms -- especially a crackdown on corruption -- leading eventually to membership in the European Union.
"I believe that everything will be good in our country," said Oleksandr Kutsenko, a Kyiv resident who voted for Poroshenko's bloc.
But the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has poisoned ties with Moscow and sapped the country's struggling economy, cast a shadow over the election.
The September 5 cease-fire ended much of the fighting, but daily violations continue to kill government troops, rebels, and civilians.
Leaders of the pro-Russian insurgents in Donetsk and Luhansk have said they will hold elections to their so-called "people's republics" on November 2 to elect separate parliaments.
Kyiv, the United States, and several other countries have said those elections are illegitimate and will not be recognized.
Russia vehemently opposes Ukrainian membership in NATO, and its concerns about an Association Agreement that Poroshenko signed with EU in June prompted Brussels and Kyiv to postpone implementation of a key free-trade portion of the deal until 2016.
Kremlin critics say Russia supported the cease-fire because it followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Donetsk and Luhansk, giving Moscow a lever of influence on Ukraine for years to come.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said it was clear the Ukrainian election was valid "in spite of the rather harsh and dirty
campaign," Interfax news agency reported.
He said the new Rada would have to "start an inclusive dialogue with entire society, establish direct contacts with representatives of
regions and seek a diplomatic solution to the problems caused by the actions of Kyiv."
Russia blames Kyiv and the West for Ukraine's political turmoil and denies any role in the conflict in east despite what NATO and Ukraine say is clear evidence of its support in the form of troops, weapons, and propaganda.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax, and UNIAN