DONETSK, Ukraine —
Pro-Russia insurgents declared independence Monday for Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions and those in Donetsk even asked to join Russia — a day after they held a vote that Ukraine’s government and the West said violated international law.
The Kremlin urged Ukraine’s interim government in Kiev to hold talks with the separatists but had no immediate response Monday to the annexation request. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the vote’s results showed that residents of the two regions “are entitled to have their own say on the vital issues they face.”
Ukraine’s government and the West have rejected Sunday’s insurgent vote as a sham and accused Moscow of fomenting weeks of unrest in eastern Ukraine in a possible attempt to grab more land after annexing Crimea in March. Russia has denied the accusations.
Organizers said 89 percent of those who voted Sunday in Donetsk and about 96 percent of those who turned out in Luhansk voted for sovereignty. The sprawling areas along Russia’s border form Ukraine’s industrial heartland: Donetsk has about 4.4 million people and Luhansk 2.2 million.
The insurgents said the turnout topped 70 percent but with no international monitors it was impossible to confirm such claims.
“(Voters) have chosen that path that has enabled the formation of an independent state — the Luhansk People’s Republic,” self-declared “people’s governor” Valery Bolotov told a rally Monday in the city of Luhansk.
The crowd cheered enthusiastically, but unlike the separatists in Donetsk, Bolotov stopped short of declaring the region’s desire to join Russia.
But Luhansk spokesman Vasily Nikitin did say the region will not vote in Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election.
The interim government in Kiev had been hoping the presidential vote would unify the country behind a new, democratically chosen leadership. Ukraine’s crisis could grow even worse if regions start rejecting the presidential vote.
Authorities in Kiev had no immediate comment on the two regions declaring independence but had plenty to say about Sunday’s vote.
“The farce, which terrorists call the referendum, will have no legal consequences except the criminal responsibility for its organizers,” Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in a statement.