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The potential of Ukraine's election to give the country a fresh start is looking fragile. The men who have seized various cities in the east are threatening to keep the balloting from happening. Mysterious groups of armed men, pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian, are muscling each other out of position, as the Ukrainian government tries to get control of the situation. People are getting killed, and in larger numbers. For now, it is uncertain how much elections can help.
On Thursday morning, pro-Russian militants stormed a Ukrainian military checkpoint, killing at least a dozen troops and wounding more than 30.
It happened 20 miles south of Donetsk, a city that declared its independence from Ukraine earlier this month. And in the town of Semenovka, just outside Slovyansk, shelling destroyed several homes.
Residents came out to complain about being caught between the Ukrainian troops and rebel crossfire.
What can I say about the people who shot at us? What can I tell my 13-year-old son about these people and what they do? Power to Ukraine? Can I say that? I just can’t understand it.
Owner of damaged café in Semenovka village
The escalating regional instability comes just days before Ukraine's first presidential election since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February. Pro-Russian separatists have sworn to disrupt Ukraine's election, particularly in the east.
The governor of the region of Donetsk, Sergei Taruta, is being cautious. He said, "We understand how they will try and wreck the election. We have strengthened law enforcement bodies by bringing in new contingents to protect polling stations and district election committees."
Voters and election officials in Donetsk and Luhansk have already been subject to intimidation and death threats.
“Forty-six members of the commissions have been captured by terrorists during this period. They have been thrown in the trunks of cars, driven around the region, for two to three hours, and then released.”
IRINA VERIGINA, ACTING LUHANSK GOVERNOR
Two of the leading candidates for this weekend's ballot are:
Owner of Ukraine's largest confectionery company, Poroshenko has a history of working with both Russia and Ukraine's founding Orange Revolution government. He is currently leading in the polls.
Ukraine's prime minister before Viktor Yanukovych, Tymoshenko has a history of abusing power in office; she spent two years in jail in the previous administration. She is running a distant second in the polls.
In the run-up to the election, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a major withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border. Ukraine's acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is calling the move a bluff.
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/AP
Ukraine’s acting prime minister on Russian troops withdrawing from Ukraine’s border
“Even if the troops are moving away, the breaking of Ukrainian borders is being carried out by armed terrorists who have been trained in Russian territory.”
NATO has been closely watching some 40,000 Russian troops staged along the border with Ukraine.
Will the fighting impede the voting?
How strong are the forces pushing for independence?
What is the reaction of the international community?
We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.