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Poll: Most Ukrainians want a unified country

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A man guards a road intersection as pro-Russian activists strengthen the barricades in front of the Ukrainian regional office of the Security Service in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin told diplomats Wednesday as he urged insurgents in southeastern Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum Sunday on autonomy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A man guards a road intersection as pro-Russian activists strengthen the barricades in front of the Ukrainian regional office of the Security Service in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin told diplomats Wednesday as he urged insurgents in southeastern Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum Sunday on autonomy. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A pro Russia Ukrainian woman chants slogans against the Kiev government after a funeral service for several pro Russia gunmen and a civilian in Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Russia has pulled back its troops from the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin told diplomats Wednesday as he urged insurgents in southeastern Ukraine to postpone their planned referendum Sunday on autonomy. But the U.S. military said it had seen no sign of a Russian troop pullback. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, right, shake hands with Ukrainian soldiers at a block post on the road at Slovyansk, Ukraine, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Ukrainian military operations that began Monday to expunge pro-Russia forces from the city of Slovyansk were the interim government’s most ambitious effort so far to quell weeks of unrest in Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking east. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko, Pool)

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference after meeting with Swiss Federal President Didier Burkhalter in the Kremlin in Moscow, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Karpukhin, Pool)

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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — A strong majority of Ukrainians want their country to remain a single, unified state and this is true even in the largely Russian-speaking east where a pro-Russia insurgency has been fighting for autonomy, a poll released Thursday shows.

The survey results were released as the pro-Russia forces were considering whether to go ahead with a referendum on autonomy planned for Sunday in defiance of a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to delay the vote. A decision was expected later in the day.

The organizers have said the referendum was on whether to give the eastern regions more autonomy within Ukraine, but left open the possibility of using it to seek independence or annexation by Russia. Many fear that such a vote could be a flashpoint for further violence between Ukrainian troops and the militants who have seized government buildings in about a dozen cities in the east.

Putin also declared on Wednesday that Russia has pulled its troops away from the Ukrainian border, but NATO and Washington said they saw no signs of this.

The poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington found that 77 percent of people nationwide want Ukraine to maintain its current borders, while nearly as many, or 70 percent, in the east feel the same. Only among Russian speakers does the percentage drop significantly, but it is still over half at 58 percent.

The central government in Kiev has the confidence of only about 41 percent of Ukrainians, with a sharp divide between the west of the country, where support is 60 percent, and the east, where it is a low 24 percent, according to the poll.

Russia, however, is viewed with great suspicion, with three times as many Ukrainians surveyed saying Russia is having a bad influence on their country as say its impact is positive.

The poll, conducted April 5-23, has a margin of error of about 3.5 percentage points.

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Associated Press writer Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

Associated Press

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