Donetsk referendum wording mentions neither Ukraine nor Russia


McClatchy Foreign Staff

Having lived through a month of pro-Russian separatists storming and seizing government buildings to raise the Russian flag, Donetsk residents will be asked May 11 to answer a single question in a hastily organized referendum.

That question, according to a government official who said he was present at a meeting Tuesday where the wording was agreed on: “Do you support the creation of the Donetsk People’s Republic?”

What would a “yes” vote actually mean? Officials admit they aren’t sure. In fact, one noted that more than a desire to join Russia, or be a separate nation, the vote is an attempt to persuade the central government in Kiev to listen to this populous, industrial region. Regional council member Nikolai Zagoruiko said that if the central government would agree to two long-standing demands, the vote might never have to happen.

“If they would agree to make Russian a second official language of Ukraine _ so that everyone can understand the state documents they must read and sign _ and agree to give Donetsk more local control over the taxes we collect to send to Kiev, so that we can make this a better place to live, we would probably be satisfied,” he said. “In fact, if they did those two things, I’m sure the referendum could be postponed, and eventually forgotten about.”

Analysts and experts on the region have repeatedly said that they think the idea of a referendum is more about having a bargaining chip with the Ukrainian government than a real desire to join Russia. The local legend is that regional business and political leaders helped create the separatist movement hoping it would lead to more local budget control.

“But after creating the monster, they lost control of the monster,” Volodymr Kipen, the head of the Donetsk Institute for Social Research and Policy Analysis, told McClatchy this week.

The notion of the region’s union with Russia _ a primary goal of pro-separatists _ won’t be mentioned on the yet-to-be printed ballots. The possibility of remaining a part of Ukraine after the vote _ a primary concern of pro-Ukrainians, who risk beatings during efforts to make their point _ also won’t be mentioned on the ballot.

Instead, the provincial officials, ranging from the governor’s office to mayors, administrators to police chiefs, decided Tuesday to ask the region’s 3.2 million registered voters to decide whether they support the area becoming an entity the exact nature of which is unclear even to those who phrased the question.

And, officials admit, they’ll be asking those voters to turn out and make this decision in just over a week through a campaign that will rely mostly on word-of-mouth. For the referendum to be legal, Donetsk voters have to get informational invitations at least seven days beforehand, which means at the latest on Monday. Whether that can be done is in doubt. The invitations had yet to be printed Wednesday. In addition, Thursday, May 1, is a national holiday, and Friday and Saturday are widely considered to be part of a four-day May Day weekend, when little if any work is expected to be done.

“Is this a legitimate referendum?” Zagoruiko said in answer to a question. “It’s as legitimate as having an unelected temporary president in Kiev.”

He was then asked whether the unelected, temporary president in Ukraine was legitimate. “I think not, so the answer to both questions would be no,” he said, and then smiled. “But maybe the answer to both questions would be yes.”

Ukraine, of course, has an unelected, interim president in Oleksandr Turchynov. He replaced the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country in February after months of pro-European Union protests in Kiev. Yanukovych is from Donetsk, and the eastern oblast, or province, was always his base of political power.

Zagoruiko, a member of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, makes the point that Yanukovych hasn’t had much support since his second year in office, or 2011. He said by then it became clear to locals that “their president” was just like other Ukrainian presidents and interested in ruling only as a means to enrich himself.

“Ukraine elects poor men to the presidency,” he said. “But they all leave as very rich men.”

Still, he said, the feelings at the Tuesday meeting where the details of the referendum were hashed out weren’t necessarily anti-Ukraine or pro-Russian.

“I would hope that we can stand with Ukraine,” he said. “We just want more say in how we govern ourselves.”

Not everyone shares that view.

Pro-Russian journalist and writer Yevgeni Yasenov said that despite an emotional attachment to Russia he didn’t think it was the right time to think about seceding and joining that nation.

“We need a clean referendum, not one taking place under the gun,” he said. “We need a referendum with international monitors, a referendum all people can believe in. That is not possible in this climate.”

If the region had such a referendum, he’s convinced, the polls that find that only 27 percent of local residents support joining Russia would be wrong.

“I don’t trust polls,” he said. “I trust what the people discuss on mass transit and in the markets. People here believe in joining Russia.”

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Taliban kill 14 Shiites in Afghanistan road attack

    An Afghan official says Taliban insurgents halted minibuses in western Afghanistan, identified 14 Shiite passengers and shot them dead by the side of the road.

  • Philippine soldiers clash with militants; 5 dead

    Philippine troops attacked a Muslim militant hideout on southern Basilan island, triggering a clash that killed three Abu Sayyaf members believed to have been involved in the 2011 kidnapping of an American woman and her teenage son, a military report said Friday. Two government militiamen were killed and two others were wounded.

In this July 8, 2014, the Lotte World Tower under construction is seen in Seoul, South Korea. Plans for the super-high tower first surfaced in 1995 and it took another 15 years to get a green light after the Air Force objected to it as a risk to a nearby military airport used for VIP flights. Now it faces new doubts as South Korea reels from the Sewol ferry sinking in April that killed hundreds of teenagers. The disaster provoked a scathing reassessment of an ethos of economic progress first, safety last that was largely unquestioned over several decades as the country rapidly industrialized.

    Towering worry: Small holes cause big jitters

    For the developers of the world's sixth tallest building near Seoul, a mysteriously shrinking lake and the appearance of small sinkholes in residential neighborhoods couldn't have come at a more inopportune time.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category