Exit polls following the conclusion of Ukraine’s presidential vote Sunday indicated that billionaire candy magnate Petro Poroshenko won the election with an absolute majority.
Poroshenko, 48, achieved nearly 56 percent of the vote, exit polls showed — which would eliminate the need for a previously expected runoff on June 15.
Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine, came in second place among 21 contenders. Still, she garnered less than 13 percent of the vote.
Official results won’t be confirmed until Monday.
"All the polls show that the election has been completed in one round and the country has a new president," Poroshenko told a news conference after the results were reported. His confectionery businesses have earned him a fortune of over $1 billion and the nickname the "Chocolate King."
At his campaign headquarters, Poroshenko told supporters the majority of Ukrainians had given him a mandate to continue a course of integration with the rest of Europe but said his first priority was to travel to the east of the country to end "war and chaos" caused by armed pro-Russian separatists there.
He said he was ready to negotiate with opponents and offer amnesty to those who laid down weapons - but he ruled out any negotiation with killers and "terrorists."
Asked by a foreign journalist about relations with Russia, Poroshenko, speaking in fluent English, said he would insist on respect for Ukraine's "sovereignty and territorial integrity."
He also said Ukraine would never recognize Russia's "occupation of Crimea", the Black Sea region seized by Moscow in March.
Polling stations in the West ran smoothly throughout the 12-hour election — but many voting locations were shuttered in the eastern part of the country where armed pro-Russian separatists intimidated voters and smashed ballot boxes.
By 3 p.m. local time, about 40 percent of the nation's eligible voters had cast their vote, but separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Eastern Ukraine vowed to stop the 5.1 million people in those regions from partaking in the democratic process.
Less than a fifth of the polling stations in Donetsk were open as insurgents roamed from site to site, making sure the doors were locked, according to The Associated Press.
The election came three months after the county's pro-Russian leader fled the capital ,following months of protests and unrest.
Many voters hope Poroshenko will unite the country, which has long been foiled by economic distress.
"He is a very smart man who can work hard compared to others, and he is also a businessman and knows that compromises are necessary even if unpleasant," said 55-year old Kiev teacher Larisa Kirichenko.
"Now we have a state of war, and in a state of war the economy is not ruling very good. But immediately when we establish the peace we will do the absolute transformation of the economy," Kirichenko told NBC News after casting his vote in Kiev.
"People with weapons must be removed from Ukrainian streets, Ukrainian villages and cities," Poroshenko added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to "respect the choice of the Ukrainian people" after the election.
Residents in Crimea, the eastern peninsula recently annexed by Moscow, were allowed to travel into other areas of Ukraine to vote, since Ukraine and the rest of the world do not accept the takeover. It was not clear how many residents of Crimea did so.
In a statement, U.S. President Barack Obama did not preempt the results by naming Poroshenko but he praised Ukrainians for turning out to vote despite violence and said the United States looked forward to working with Ukraine's new president.
"This election is another important step forward in the efforts of the Ukrainian government to unify the country and reach out to all of its citizens to ensure their concerns are addressed and aspirations met," he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
First published May 25 2014, 9:10 AM