DONETSK, Ukraine —
The Ukrainian government's room to maneuver is shrinking.
With national presidential elections scheduled for May 25, the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence Monday, and those in Donetsk even asked to join enormous neighbor Russia instead. The sprawling areas along Russia's border, home to about 6.6 million people, form Ukraine's industrial heartland.
"We, the people of the Donetsk People's Republic, based on the results of the May 11, 2014, referendum . declare that henceforth the Donetsk People's Republic will be deemed a sovereign state," Denis Pushilin, co-chairman of the insurgent government, said to applause Monday.
Wearing an ill-fitting suit and reading his speech from a Mac laptop, he continued, "The people of Donetsk have always been part of the Russian world, regardless of ethnic affiliation. For us, the history of Russia is our history."
A day earlier, both regions held a slapdash referendum that Ukraine's acting president called a "sham" and Western governments said violated international law.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says the United States does not recognize the results of the vote, and is focusing on making sure Ukraine's presidential election takes place as planned in 13 days.
But that is starting to look in doubt: Luhansk spokesman Vasily Nikitin said his region will not take part.
The interim government in Kiev had been hoping the presidential vote would unify the country behind a new, democratically chosen leadership. Ukraine's crisis could grow even worse if regions start rejecting the presidential election. Dozens of people have been reported killed since Ukrainian forces began trying to retake some eastern cities.
Organizers said 89 percent of those who cast ballots Sunday in the Donetsk region and about 96 percent of those who turned out in Luhansk voted for sovereignty.
Voters "have chosen that path that has enabled the formation of an independent state — the Luhansk People's Republic," said self-declared "people's governor" Valery Bolotov at a rally in the city of Luhansk.