KIEV - Ukrainian polling stations opened on Sunday in a presidential election overshadowed by violence in the country's mainly Russian-speaking east and by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

Voting began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) across the former Soviet republic of 45 million people. It will end 12 hours later, when exit polls will indicate a result ahead of an official outcome on Monday.

Voters will find many polling stations shut in the east, where armed pro-Moscow separatists are trying to block an election they say is illegitimate. European election monitors have largely pulled out of the Donetsk region, citing a separatist campaign of "terror" against Ukrainian officials.

Opinion polls put Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire confectionery magnate, well ahead of his rivals in an election expected to draw a high turnout. If no candidate wins over 50 percent of the vote a run-off election will be held on June 15.


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