KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's interim prime minister urged people to take part in what he said would be a clean and fair presidential election on Sunday that would be a triumph before the world against Russian aggression.
In a statement on Saturday, Arseny Yatseniuk told Ukrainians they had a responsibility to vote, for the future of their children, and assured those in rebel-held eastern regions that "bandits won't be terrorising your area for much longer".
"Tomorrow we will demonstrate to the whole world, but above all to ourselves, that we cannot be intimidated," said Yatseniuk, who took power in February following the overthrow of the previous elected president, Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich.
He avoided mention of any candidate - campaigning is banned until voting ends.
But said he was sure the winner would make a priority of signing up to a closer alliance with the European Union - a move which Yanukovich rejected in November, triggering months of protests in Kiev that ended when he fled to Russia.
Polls show almost certain victory, possibly outright in the first round, for confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko, a former government minister who backed the pro-Western protests.
"We will definitely have a legitimately elected president who will make his first visit to the capital of united Europe and sign the document on a free trade zone with the European Union," said Yatseniuk, who has secured EU and U.S. support and angered Moscow which denounced Yanukovich's ousting as a coup.
"The newly elected president will receive from the Ukrainian people a mandate for a determined and unstoppable movement away from the grey zone of lawlessness and dark forces that dream of suffocating us and into an area of free people, rallied around common values - to a place where it is easier to breathe."
"FUTURE OF OUR CHILDREN"
Though he did not mention Ukraine's former Soviet partner by name, he renewed accusations that Russia has tried to disrupt the process, saying: "We haven't let the election be wrecked by bandits sponsored from over the border and foreign mercenaries."
Pro-Russian separatists who claimed independence after referendums in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oppose the holding of the presidential election but preparations were under way on Saturday in parts of the area to allow voting.
Yatseniuk offered assurances the government had taken care to prevent abuses that have marked many ballots in the 23 years of post-Soviet independence and said holding the election itself would be a national victory.
"Remember, tomorrow, with our ballot papers, we will be defending Ukraine, investing in its prosperity and in the future of our children and grandchildren," he said.
"We will vote, and that means we will triumph."
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Sophie Hares)