Ukraine voted in snap presidential elections on Sunday, with part of the country gripped by armed conflict; a Constitution in the process of being rewritten; and a coup-ousted President still legally in office.

As polling stations opened in Ukraine at 8:00 local time (10:30 IST), election officials admitted that in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, the vote had been effectively disrupted.

The Ukrainian Election Commission reported that voting was taking place in 9 out of 34 election districts in the two rebellious regions, which on Saturday formed a self-proclaimed independent state of Novorossiya and vowed to derail the presidential vote.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Crimea on Sunday for a two-day visit designed to underscore Moscow’s firm grip on the region, which was part of Ukraine until it reunited with Russia two months ago.

Crimea’s takeover spurred anti-Kiev and pro-independence protests Ukraine’s other Russian-speaking eastern regions.

Earler this month Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums on “state sovereignty,” which was supported by almost 90 per cent of voters.

Kiev sent thousands of troops to the east to suppress the revolt, but the “anti-terrorist operation” has met with fierce armed resistance. More than 150 combatants and civilians have died in more than a month of fighting in the east. On Friday, an Italian photojournalist and his Russian interpreter were killed and a French reporter was rounded when they came under artillery fire by Ukrainian forces near Sloviansk, a rebel stronghold.

The front runners

The Ukrainian presidential election is contested by 21 politicians, with billionaire candy-maker Petro Poroshenko a clear frontrunner. Most polls give him a comfortable near-30 per cent lead over his closest rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The main intrigue of the vote is whether Mr. Poroshenko (48) can win in the first round. If he fails to garner more than 50 per cent, Ms. Tymoshenko, the 53-year-old fiery princess of the Orange Revolution of 2004, may have a chance in the runoff.

Both frontrunners are patently pro-Western leaders, but are expected to mend ties with Russia after the election.

Voter turnout was relatively high, except for the east, with 40 per cent nationwide casting their ballots by 15:00 local time.

More than 3,600 foreign observers from 19 countries and 19 international organisations monitored the election, but no observers were deployed in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The new President will be elected for a five year term, but his powers are likely to be severely curtailed as the main political forces support switching from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government.

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