Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they voted unanimously on Thursday in favor of holding a referendum on independence on Sunday as planned.
“We have just voted in the People’s Council. … The date of the referendum was endorsed 100 percent. The referendum will take place on May 11,” separatist leader Denis Pushilin said.
The announcement came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the vote’s postponement saying the move could open the way for dialogue with Kyiv authorities.
Some political analysts say Putin’s call and the separatists’ refusal to heed it might have been staged so as to portray the Russian president as having little influence over secessionists engaged in an armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
The crisis that has led to dozens of deaths in clashes between Ukrainian troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine and rival groups in the southern port of Odessa.
The planned plebiscite seems to mimic a Crimea scenario where a similar vote, denounced by Kyiv and the West as having been orchestrated by Moscow, led to the Ukrainian peninsula’s annexation by Russia in March.
According to media reports, three million paper ballots – have been printed for Sunday’s poll, which separatists plan to hold in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s top security official, Andriy Parubiy, said on Thursday that Kyiv would press on with a campaign to regain control of the country’s east.