(2:15 PM EST):

Associated Press reports: 

Ukrainians across eastern and southern regions of the country on Sunday cast their votes in controversial local referendums despite demands from leaders in Kiev (and the U.S. government) that such elections not be held.

Long queues of voters were reported in Luhansk, Donetsk, and elsewhere though assessments differed on whether that should be interpreted as vast turnout or the hastily assembled election infrastructure. Meanwhile, new violence in Slavyansk and Mairupol suggested that nothing about the referendum outcomes will quell the ongoing political crisis, with many predicting it will likely worsen.

The contentious day of voting coupled with escalating violence in recent days and weeks as increasingly put the words “civil war” into the conversation surrounding Ukraine.

As people cast their votes for or against local sovereignty, the international stakes remained high as the eyes of the world wait to see how the interim government which dominates the west, and has received backing from the U.S. and its NATO allies in Europe, responds to the outcome of the vote.

In the region of Donetsk, where local residents declared temporary autonomy after the previous Ukraine government was overthrown earlier this year, Denis Pushilin of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” said that if the vote affirmed independence from Kiev he would consider all Ukraine soldiers who remain in the region as an adversarial force.

“All military troops on our territory after the official announcement of referendum results will be considered illegal and declared occupiers,” said Pushilin, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

In addition, he said, the local people would move quickly “to form state bodies and military authorities as soon as possible.”

The Guardian‘s correspondent on the ground, Shaun Walker, remarked that such language—”If not simply rhetoric”—was a “big escalation” in terms of what the possible outcomes of today’s vote might bring.

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The Associated Press reports:

And The New York Times adds:

In Kiev, according to Reuters, the interim Interior Ministry Andriy Deshchytsia called the referendum a criminal farce, saying the ballot papers in the east were “soaked in blood.”

Offering his assessment from the ground, the Guardian‘s Walker put Sunday’s referendums in this context:

What truly follows Sunday’s vote, however, is purely speculation on all sides.

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