In 'The Independent', By Askold Krushelnycky in Kiev
"Viktor Yushchenko last night claimed victory in Ukraine's presidential election. Early exit polls from the unprecedented third round of voting gave the pro-Western candidate a commanding lead.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych came close to conceding defeat after nationwide exit polls showed him trailing his rival 41 to 56 per cent, a margin backed by early results. "If I lose, there will be a tough opposition. They will see what an opposition means," he said.
Predictions of disruption and bloodshed failed to materialise and the poll took place under the eyes of an army of foreign observers, there to prevent the massive fraud that saw the result of the last round annulled.
The outcome is expected to determine whether the large European country forges closer links with the West or is drawn back into the orbit of its former Soviet colonial master Russia, which has lent strong backing to the Yanukovych campaign.
The opposition leader Mr Yushchenko, an advocate of closer ties with Nato and the EU, was in bullish mood as he voted in the capital, Kiev: "I'll win. That's 100 per cent. I'm absolutely certain."
The vote was a rerun of the second round of the election, held on 21 November but later annulled by the country's Supreme Court which ruled that the government had rigged it in favour of Mr Yanukovych."
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