Ukraine is holding snap elections for a new parliament.
President Petro Poroshenko called the poll as he aims to cement a new direction for the country after the ousting of pro-Russian leaders earlier this year.
However, the vote will be overshadowed by a continuing conflict with pro-Russian rebels in the east.
About 3 million people in Donetsk and Luhansk regions will not vote. The separatists will hold their own polls next month.
Another 1.8 million people in Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, will not take part.
The vote also comes amid an energy crisis, with Russia cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine in June in a dispute over unpaid bills.
Ukraine’s economy is collapsing, with GDP forecast to fall between 7 and 10% this year.
The government hopes the elections will help stabilize the country, with pro-Russian parties considerably weakened by recent events.
Half of the 450 seats in parliament will be allocated proportionally according to a party list system, with parties needing to gain more than 5% to win seats.
Ukraine is holding snap elections for a new parliament (photo Getty Images)
Another 198 lawmakers will be elected from individual constituencies, with 27 from Crimea and the rebel-held areas remaining vacant.
Most are nationalist and pro-Western, and ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions is not running.
However, three parties comprising his former allies are seeking votes in the south and east of the country.
“At last we will elect a pro-Ukrainian and not pro-Moscow, an anti-corruption and not pro-bribery, a pro-European parliament,” President Petro Poroshenko said on October 24.
Viktor Yanukovych fled in February after a wave of pro-Western protests in Kiev triggered by his refusal to sign a partnership agreement with the European Union.
Anger in eastern Ukraine at his overthrow turned to unrest with separatists seizing government buildings and beginning an insurgency in April.
At least 3,700 people have been killed since the conflict began, including 300 killed after a ceasefire was agreed on September 5.
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Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has dissolved parliament and called snap elections for October 26, as government forces continue to fight pro-Russian rebel forces in the east.
Petro Poroshenko said many current parliamentarians were backers of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and that the majority of Ukrainians wanted a new parliament.
Elections would be held on October 26, he said in a TV address.
Separately, Ukraine’s military says it clashed with rebel armored vehicles that entered the country from Russia.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has dissolved parliament and called snap elections for October 26
It said a column of 10 tanks and two armored personnel carriers was heading towards the south-eastern port of Mariupol but was stopped. Two tanks were reportedly destroyed.
More than 2,000 people have died in months of fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The two regions declared independence from Kiev, following Russia’s annexation of the southern Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March.
Ukraine accuses Russia of arming the rebels in the east and sending its troops into the country – a charge the Kremlin denies.
On Tuesday, Petro Poroshenko is expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at talks in Minsk Belarus.
Petro Poroshenko has claimed outright victory in Ukraine’s presidential election.
Billionaire Petro Poroshenko, known as the “chocolate king”, won more than 55% of the vote in the first round, exit polls suggest.
Announcing he had won, the 48-year-old businessman promised to forge closer links with the EU and restore peace in restive eastern regions.
Pro-Russian separatists severely disrupted voting there. Some 20 people have died in fighting in recent days.
No polling stations were open in Donetsk city, and across the region only seven out of 12 district electoral commissions were operating. The separatists are in control of large areas of the Donestk and Luhansk regions.
Four hours before polls closed, at 16:00, unofficial estimates put the turnout nationwide at 45%.
Petro Poroshenko has claimed outright victory in Ukraine’s presidential election
Addressing supporters in Kiev, Petro Poroshenko said he would support a parliamentary election later this year.
He also said he would never recognize Russia’s “occupation of Crimea”, annexed by Moscow in March. Asked about relations with Russia, he said the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine mattered most to him.
Petro Poroshenko is the billionaire owner of the Roshen chocolates group, a TV station and several manufacturing plants.
President Barack Obama hailed the election as an “important step forward in the efforts of the Ukrainian government to unify the country”.
Sunday’s poll was called after President Viktor Yanukovych was deposed in February, amid mass protests against his pro-Russian policies.
Local elections were also held on Sunday in Ukraine. Former boxer Vitaliy Klitschko – again quoting exit polls – claimed he had been elected mayor of Kiev.
Vitaliy Klitschko, a pro-Western politician, withdrew his own presidential bid and announced his support for Petro Poroshenko.
On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would respect the outcome of Ukraine’s election.
Kiev and the West accuse Russia of stoking separatist sentiment – a claim Vladimir Putin denies.
Separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence after referendums on May 11, a move not recognized by Kiev or its Western allies.
The two regions took their cue from a disputed referendum in Crimea, which led to Russia’s annexation of the southern peninsula.
Eighteen candidates were competing in the presidential election, seen as a crucial to unite the country.
The exit polls suggest ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko came a distant second, with over 12% of the vote.
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Ukraine is in the presidential polls after months of unrest following the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Eighteen candidates are competing in the contest, which is widely seen as a crucial moment to unite the country.
But pro-Russian separatists in the east who oppose the election have threatened to disrupt the voting process.
Some 20 people have been killed amid an upsurge of fighting between insurgents and government forces in recent days.
The violence in the east, particularly Donetsk and Luhansk, has seriously disrupted preparations for the polls.
Eighteen candidates are competing in Ukraine’s presidential poll, which is widely seen as a crucial moment to unite the country
Seven out of 12 district election commissions have opened across the region of Donetsk, and none in the cities of Donetsk or Horlivka.
Two district commissions are open in Luhansk.
The presidential elections were called after the last elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, was deposed in February amid mass protests against his pro-Russian policies.
Confectionary tycoon Petro Poroshenko, known as the “chocolate king”, is the favorite to win.
Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko is lagging behind Petro Poroshenko in opinion polls.
In order to win outright, one candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote, otherwise a second round of voting will be held on June 15.
Interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged people to vote and “defend Ukraine” in a televised address on Saturday.
“This will be the expression of the will of Ukrainians from the west, east, north and south,” he said.
In an unprecedented move, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that he would respect the outcome of the election and was prepared to work with whoever was elected president.
It comes after months of tension with Russia, which has been blamed by Kiev and its Western allies of stoking separatist sentiment in eastern parts of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has denied the claims.
Over 1,000 observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been deployed nationwide at polling stations.
But the OSCE has pulled out most of its observers from the eastern Donetsk region over fears for their security.
Some pro-Russian separatists have warned people against voting, with reports of election officials and voter lists being been seized at gunpoint.
“If necessary we will revert to the use of force,” Denis Pushilin, a leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, is quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
Separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine after holding referendums on May 11, a move not recognized by Kiev nor its Western allies.
The two regions took their cue after a disputed referendum in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March.
More than 75,000 police and volunteers are said to have mobilized to ensure security during the vote.
Polling stations will remain open until 20:00, with definitive results expected on Monday.
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