Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine said Thursday that they intend to go ahead with a planned referendum on greater autonomy Sunday, despite a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to delay it.
"The referendum will happen May 11," the leader of the rebels' self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin, told reporters.
The organizers say the referendum would decide whether to give the eastern regions of the country more autonomy within Ukraine, but they have left open the possibility of using it to seek independence or annexation by Russia.
The decision to hold the vote as planned was unanimous, said Pushilin. The suggestion to postpone the referendum "came from a person who indeed cares for the people of the southeast" of Ukraine, Pushilin said. "But we are the bullhorn of the people."
A spokeswoman for pro-Russian activists in the town of Slovyansk confirmed to Agence France-Presse that the vote would happen Sunday, while a group of pro-Russian rebels in the city of Luhansk said they, too, were pushing ahead with a referendum on Sunday.