Frontline Ukraine port votes in delayed local poll

Ukrainian troops guard a polling station in Mariupol, in the Donetsk region, on November 29, 2015, as voters cast ballots in a local election that was put off when a nationwide October 25 poll was scrapped in the strategically important port city (AFP Photo/Aleksey Filippov) (AFP)

Mariupol (Ukraine) (AFP) - Voters in the east Ukrainian government-held port of Mariupol on Sunday cast their ballots in a delayed local elections after an earlier poll was scrapped in the strategic frontline city.

The rest of Kiev-controlled Ukraine has already voted in local polls but the election was dramatically cancelled in Mariupol on October 25 amid claims of widespread ballot paper irregularities.

"At this moment all the stations are opened, voting goes on, there are no serious problems", Tetyana Nedavnya, head of the local election commission, told AFP by the phone.

The industrial hub of nearly 500,000 -- which lies between the Russian border and annexed Crimea peninsula -- has found itself torn between those supporting Kiev and those sympathetic to a pro-Russian rebellion that has raged close by for 19 months.

The earlier vote was pushed back "due to the improper preparation of election ballots, the absence of control over their printing and number, and reliable storage," the Solidarity party of President Petro Poroshenko said.

But locals and the pro-Russian party that had hoped to do well in the city both accused Kiev of simply calling off a vote it was about to lose.

This time round a trickle of mostly elderly people headed to the polls in rainy weather to elect a new mayor with a candidate from a pro-Russian bloc favourite to win.

"The turnout is very low", Pavlo Zhebrivskyi, head of Donetsk military and civil administration, told Ukrainian TV channel "112".

The partially-emptied city -- which fell briefly under separatist control and has faced repeated rebel offensives -- is still overseen by rival factions allegiant to various regional field commanders and oligarchs.

Fighters of the ultra-nationalist movement "Pravyi Sector" (Right Sector) said they were observing the situation at the stations to prevent disorder and vote rigging.

"We are here to make sure that elections will be held fairly," group member Sergiy told AFP.

"It is no secret that the majority here support separatists. The reason is that our people are still nostalgic for the Soviet Union and are trying to get it back by voting for pro-Russian forces."

Results of the elections held in the rest of the country did not change the balance of power in the crisis-hit nation.

Poroshenko's party remains popular in the centre and west while the pro-Russian opposition garnered support in the south and east.