Old Guard Clinches Mayoral Race on Edge of Ukraine's Eastern War

  • Candidate backed by ex-ruling party officials wins in Mariupol
  • President Poroshenko's bloc doesn't make cut for local council

An opposition candidate backed by allies of Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian leader won the mayoral election in Mariupol, a port city on the fringe of the nation’s 21-month war.

Vadym Boychenko, an independent supported by the Opposition Bloc, a group dominated by members of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s now-defunct Party of Regions, got more than 50 percent of votes, Tetyana Nedavnyaya, head of the local election committee, said Wednesday by phone. The Opposition Bloc took 45 of 54 seats on Mariupol’s council, while President Petro Poroshenko’s party didn’t get any, she said.

The elections highlight the task facing Ukraine’s new government as it tries to vanquish the remnants of the old regime and realign the former Soviet republic with the European Union and the U.S., at the expense of historic ties to Russia. Mariupol, an industrial hub of half a million people that was briefly controlled by pro-Russian separatists, is located on the edge of the conflict zone and less than 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Russian border.

The Mariupol result was “very much predictable,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst at the Kiev-based Penta research institute. “The Kiev authorities aren’t backed by many in Ukraine’s easternmost regions, plus many pro-Ukrainian people left the city.”

Boychenko works at a local metals plant owned by Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, a former Yanukovych ally. The fact that many Mariupol residents also work for Akhmetov’s companies may have aided his victory, Fesenko said.

The Mariupol vote, delayed from October because of issues with printing ballots, marks the end of Ukraine’s local elections. While Poroshenko’s party scored victories further west, with ex-world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko retaining his post as Kiev mayor, it lost out in eastern cities including Kharkiv, Odessa and Slovyansk.

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