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DONETSK, Ukraine - Pro-Russian rebels voted to set up a separatist leadership in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, aiming to take the war-torn region closer to Russia and defying Kiev and the West, as shelling continued across the territory. The United States and European Union have denounced the vote as illegitimate, which is sure to stoke tensions further between the West and Russia.
The separatists' election of a leader and People's Council is the latest twist in a face-off between Russia and the West that started with Ukraine's overthrow of a Moscow-backed president in February and the installation of a pro-European leadership. In Donetsk, eastern Ukraine's industrial capital and the separatists' political and military stronghold, people lined up at polling stations. Soviet music blared out of speakers in front of a central voting station, where people sold bags of carrots, potatoes and cabbages for pennies.
"We are citizens of Donetsk, and we don't want to live under the Kiev government that has turned its back on us," said Sergei Kovalenko, 58, a private security guard who came to vote with his wife at a polling station set up at an elementary school.
Some of the heaviest mortar and artillery shelling in the past few weeks could be heard in the predominantly Russian-speaking area just hours before voting was due to begin.