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Ukrainian President-Elect Petro Poroshenko Promises Reform as More Fighting Breaks Out

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Petro Poroshenko has won the presidential election of Ukraine with 53.75 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff; 13.11 percent of voters chose former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. International observers are reporting that the election was generally free and fair, “largely in line with international commitments.” Poroshenko’s inauguration will be held as soon as June 9, Kiev Post reports.

While many polling stations were shuttered in eastern Ukraine under threats of violence from separatists, 15 percent of voters were able to participate in Donetsk, while Luhansk reported a 40 percent turnout. Nationwide, about 60 percent of the electorate turned out to vote.  

In a press conference Monday morning, Poroshenko made a number of statements indicating how he will steer the embattled country. For starters, he promised to step up the anti-terrorist operation in the east and to improve the equipment of Ukraine’s defense forces, which initially found themselves drastically ill-prepared to stave off incursions by pro-Russian forces. “The anti-terrorist operation will not and cannot last for months, it will last just for hours,” Poroshenko said, according to the Kyiv Post. He also said that interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk would keep his post, emphasized that opening a dialogue with residents of the eastern regions—but not the “terrorist” separatist forces there—would be his first priority, and said he will try to return Crimea to Ukraine. “Poroshenko made clear he would explore all available legal channels to secure the return of the Black Sea peninsula to Kiev's rule,” Reuters reports. The billionaire businessman said he will sell his major holding, the chocolate conglomerate Roshen, but not the Channel 5, the major opposition TV network that he owns.

President Obama congratulated Ukrainians for “making their voices heard by voting in their presidential election today,” in an official statement. “The United States looks forward to working with the next President, as well as the democratically elected parliament, to support Ukraine’s efforts to enact important political and economic reforms,” Obama said. Poroshenko said he will call for parliamentary elections sometime this year. Alongside the presidential election, Kyiv also elected a new mayor, Vitali Klitschko.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February, issued a statement questioning the legitimacy of Sunday’s vote. “I want to note that the legitimacy of the elections and the legitimacy of the president requires the participation of the south-east of the country. Many voters in these regions were insulted and humiliated by the actions of the illegitimate power, which came as a result of a military coup," Yanukovych said, according to ITAR-TASS. Ukrainska Pravda points out that unless he is given a special exception, Yanukovych will violate Russian law if he remains in the country, as foreigners are limited to a continuous stay in Russia of 90 days.

Russia has said that it will work with the president-elect, but the Russian foreign ministry stated that it did not “need intermediaries” such as the E.U. and U.S. for dealing with Ukraine, and re-emphasized that the anti-terrorist operation in the east would need to stop.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, declared Sunday’s election illegitimate and called president-elect Poroshenko a “war criminal,” according to reports of a press conference Pushilin held Monday morning.

Monday morning brought renewed fighting in Donetsk as separatists took over part of the Donetsk airport, and violence reportedly spilled out onto surrounding streets.