Separatist rebels pressed ahead with a referendum on self-rule in east Ukraine on Sunday and fighting flared anew in a conflict that looked set to dismember the country and pitch Russia and the West into a new Cold War.
A separatist leader said the region would form its own state bodies and military after the referendum, formalizing a split that began with the takeover by armed pro-Russian men of government buildings in a dozen eastern towns last month.
A near festive atmosphere at makeshift polling stations in some areas belied the grave implications of the event. In others, armed altercations broke out between security forces and separatists, over ballot papers and control of a television tower.
In the southeastern port of Mariupol, scene of fierce fighting last week, there were only eight polling centers for a population of half a million. Queues grew to hundreds of meters in bright sunshine, with spirits high as one center overflowed and ballot boxes were brought onto the street.
On the eastern outskirts, a little over an hour after polls opened, soldiers from Kiev seized what they said were falsified ballot papers, marked with Yes votes, and detained two men.
They refused to hand the men over to policemen who came to take them away, saying they did not trust them. Instead they waited for state security officers to interview and arrest them.
Around 200 km (160 miles) north, clashes broke out around a television tower on the edge of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk shortly before people began making their way through barricades of felled trees, tires and machinery to vote.
"I wanted to come as early as I could," said Zhenya Denyesh, a 20-year-old student, second to vote at a concrete three-story university building. "We all want to live in our own country."
Asked what he thought would follow the vote, organized in a matter of weeks by rebels, he replied: "It will still be war."