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Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli, 30, was killed in eastern Ukraine, Italian officials confirmed on Sunday.Rocchelli and his translator were reportedly killed by mortar fire after hiding in a ditch near Sloviansk, the epicenter of violence between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev-supporting troops. The two bodies were taken to a local hospital for family identification.
The Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog, reports a low turnout in a handful of open polling stations in Donetsk Oblast, where only seven district commissions of 15 opened today. “At the polling stations that opened up, the turnout by 11 a.m. was five percent,” Oleksandr Chernenko, head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine tweeted.
Ukraine's critical presidential election got underway Sunday under the wary scrutiny of a world eager for stability in a country rocked by a deadly uprising in the east. While there were no immediate reports of violence, pro-Russia insurgents were trying to block voting by snatching ballot boxes and patrolling polling stations.
The vote was taking place three months after the ouster of the country's pro-Russia leader, who was chased from power by months of protests triggered by his decision to reject a pact with the European Union and forge closer ties with Moscow.
There were no immediate reports of fighting on Sunday after weeks of intense battles. But it also appeared little voting was taking place in the east: The regional administration in Donetsk said that only 426 out of 2,430 polling stations in the region were open Sunday, and none in the city of Donetsk itself.
There was no voting in Luhansk, the center of the neighboring province, but some stations appeared to be open across the region, according to local officials.
Polls have shown the 48-year old billionaire candy-maker Petro Poroshenko far ahead of the other 20 candidates, but short of the absolute majority needed to win in the first round, so a runoff set for June 15 is expected. Poroshenko's nearest challenger is Yulia Tymoshenko, the divisive and charismatic former prime minister.
Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Friday to "respect the choice of the Ukrainian people" and said he would be ready to work with the winner, in an apparent bid to ease the worst crisis in relations with the West since the Cold War and avoid a new round of Western sanctions.
In Kiev, Vera Potemkina, 65, a retired university professor, said she cast her ballot for Poroshenko because she hopes he will steer Ukraine out of Russia's orbit and closer to the West. "We are part of Europe, we do not need Asia," she said.
Tymoshenko, the 53-year-old blond-braided heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, spent two-and-a half years in prison on abuse of office charges denounced as political by the West. She is still admired by many for her energy and will, but detested by others over her role in the political infighting that has weakened the country in the past.
Ukrainians voted on Sunday in a presidential election billed as the most important since they won their independence from Moscow 23 years ago, but armed pro-Russian separatists disrupted voting in eastern regions of the former Soviet republic.
Early signs pointed to a high turnout in sunny weather in an election where the main candidates, including front-runner Petro Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate, are promising closer ties with the West in defiance of Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
But the absence of over 15 percent of the electorate, in Russian-annexed Crimea and two eastern regions where fighting with pro-Moscow rebels continued on Saturday, may mar any result - and leave the Kremlin questioning the victor's legitimacy, for all Putin's new pledge to respect the people's will.
Voting began in most of Ukraine at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. EDT) and will end 12 hours later, when exit polls will indicate a result ahead of an official outcome on Monday.
Only about 20 percent of the polling stations in the heavily industrialized, Russian-speaking Donetsk region, which has 3.3 million registered voters, were working as of 9:30 a.m. (2.30 a.m. EDT), authorities said. None were open in the city of Donetsk.
"These are extremely important elections. We have to make sure Ukraine becomes a truly independent country, a powerful independent state that nobody will be able to push around," said pensioner Mikhailo Belyk, 65, casting his ballot at a crowded polling station in a southeast district of the capital Kiev.
Sounding an equally upbeat note, businessman Viktor Sypchenko, 45, said: "I am voting for my children and their future. I hope we can break free from our awful past."
The picture emerging in the east was more confused. European election monitors have largely pulled out of the Donetsk region for their own safety, citing a campaign of "terror" by pro-Russian separatists against Ukrainian electoral officials.
On the night of 22 on May 23, 2014 , terrorists attacked a convoy of military vehicles that moved around town Rubizhne , Luhansk region. Approximately 04.40 near the bridge between Rubizhne and Druzhelyubivka column of one of the military units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fell into an ambush and was fired from grenade lauchers and small arms. Soldiers entered the battle. Due to fierce battle one soldier killed, three others were injured.Also on 22 May, about 15.40 , on the southern edge of Rubizhne more than 500 armed militants attacked a military unit in position , again with the use of civilians as living shield. For this bloody action militants, deliberately accumulated power in advance. It is about a gang of militants from Lugansk , recently deployed in Anthracite, and composed of Russian professional mercenaries.In close collaboration mechanized division and army aviation Ukrainian military gave terrorists uncompromising resistance. The fierce battle lasted for several hours. Ukrainian military was able to keep the position and force of terrorists away . Loss of the militants - to 20 killed and 30 wounded.In all cases, soldiers wounded in battle, received emergency medical assistance and evacuated to military medical facilities.In most cases, the Ukrainian military have to deal with well-trained and armed militants, professional mercenaries who act treacherously with ambushes , and always use local supporters, civilians as human shields .Nevertheless , elements of the Armed Forces of Ukraine successfully perform tasks under the anti-terrorist operations continue to constrict around the ring to prevent terrorists from destabilizing the situation in other regions of the country and the disruption of early presidential elections.Leadership of the Ministry of Defence and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine expresses its deep condolences to the bereaved members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.