Donetsk Asks to Join Russia After Referendum to Leave Ukraine

Pro-Russian militiants stand by as they maintain a barricade outside the regional state building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Monday. GENYA SAVILOV / AFP - Getty Images

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The self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk formally asked to be annexed by Russia on Monday after a referendum in which it claimed people voted overwhelmingly in favor of breaking away from Ukraine.

Pro-Russian separatists who oversaw Sunday's referendum said the vast majority of people in the Donetsk and Luhansk voted to recognize their regions as sovereign entities separate from the capital Kiev.

"We ask the Russian Federation to consider the issue of annexation of Donetsk People’s Republic to the Russian Federation," said a statement to reporters by the republic's co-chairman Denis Pushilin. The statement was read out after the votes were finalized by the people's republic and reported by the RIA Novosti news agency.

The referendum was held by armed groups who occupied buildings across the east of Ukraine in protest at the Western-backed Kiev government. The United States, European Union, and Ukrainian government said the referendum was illegal because of the widespread presence of armed groups and voter fraud.

— Maria Stromova and Alexander Smith