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Taruta says separatists’ republic ‘does not exist,’ vows to hold presidential elections in Donetsk Oblast

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May 13, 2014, 2:48 p.m. | Ukraine — by Christopher J. Miller

The Kyiv-appointed Donetsk Regional State Administration head Serhiy Taruta speaks to journalists inside Donetsk's Donbass Palace hotel on May 13.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The Kyiv-appointed governor of Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast Serhiy Taruta on May 13 blasted the sham referendum carried out across his region by separatist leaders here on May 11, calling it nothing more than a “sociological questionnaire.”

“The Donetsk People’s Republic does not exist,” he told reporters at Donetsk’s Donbass Palace hotel. “It exists in name only. They have no economic and social programs, no law enforcement.”

Separatists announced the results of the referendum, which they called-for, organized and carried out, on May 12. Roman Liahin, the self-appointed head of the Donetsk People's Republic elections commission, revealed at a press conference that more than 70 percent of the region's population turned out to vote on May 11, 90 percent of which cast ballots in favor of the bogus republic separating from Ukraine, according to their calculations.

Kyiv, meanwhile, said that no more than 30 percent of the Donetsk population voted in the separatists' referendum, and interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov called it a "farce."

Admitting that part of what led to the situation here in the restive east was Kyiv's lack of communication with people here, Taruta said that in order to stabilize the region a legitimate national referendum on decentralization of power and the transfer of financial and administrative powers to regional governments must be held. 

To do that, a majority of Ukraine’s parliamentarians must come to an agreement on the proposed referendum, which Taruta confessed could be difficult. “But we hope to get to it,” he said.

Taruta proposed that the national referendum be held on June 15.

The Kyiv-appointed Donetsk Regional State Administration head Serhiy Taruta speaks to journalists inside Donetsk's Donbass Palace hotel on May 13. He said that negotiations between his regional government and separatists have been disrupted by an internal coup. (Photo: Kostyantyn Chernichkin)

Also on May 13, the regional administration head said he was not worried about presidential elections in Donetsk Oblast being disrupted, despite separatist-appointed Donetsk People’s Republic leader Denis Pushilin saying on May 12 that the region will not participate in the presidential vote set for May 25.

Taruta tried to temper fears that the separatists will obstruct the elections, saying that all Donetsk Oblast cities, except for Sloviansk, are equipped with everything necessary for the presidential election to be carried out. He said that electoral commissions were still operating, ballots are still able to be printed and voter registration lists have been created.

Meanwhile, he and his people will continue to try to negotiate with the separatists. He admitted, however, that his point man on negotiations, Donetsk Mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, has has trouble brokering any deals with them. He said that over the past few days an internal coup has befallen the separatists, obstructing ongoing negotiations.

"Unfortunately, there are no leaders who would ensure the fulfillment of certain agreements. There has been a coup," he said. “We speak with the separatist leaders every day, but every day the people we speak to change.”

However, he continued, "we are still constantly in talks with them about deescalation of the conflict, unlocking buildings, laying down weapons and the terms of the amnesty guaranteed by the central government."

Taruta said economic stability in the industrial region of more than four million people is possible only if it remains within Ukraine. "We need dialogue and a round table that can calm the situation in the region," he said.

Kyiv Post editor Christopher J. Miller can be reached at miller@kyivpost.com, and on Twitter at @ChristopherJM. 

Editor’s Note: This article has been produced with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media

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