Kiev: Pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko faces a stern test of his unpopular belt-tightening measures and stuttering anti-corruption drive when Ukraine votes in local elections today that exclude the pro-Russian separatist east.
The polls come during a lull in fighting and amid growing worries that Ukraine is slipping off the global agenda despite just turning into Europe's second-poorest country and still standing as a bulwark against Russia's feared expansion west.
Twenty months have passed since the ex-Soviet nation sparked the world's imagination through unceasing protests that toppled a despised Kremlin-backed leader and appeared to anchor Ukraine's future with the West.
But Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea and the pro-Moscow eastern revolt that followed in which more than 8,000 died have seen the nation of 40 million stripped of its most strategic naval bases and industrial heartland.
The prospects of Kiev winning back the Russian-run Black Sea peninsula now seem remote.
Many further fear that the eastern insurgency is turning into a "frozen conflict" whose terms are dictated by Vladimir Putin -- the Russian strongman who denies orchestrating the war in revenge for Kiev's decision to slip out of Moscow's orbit.
The popularity of Poroshenko's government has since fallen so sharply that Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- his approval ratings reported at a few percentage points above zero -- is not even fielding candidates from his party in the polls.
The public's frustration at the West's refusal to arm Ukrainian forces and only provide financial help, with tough austerity strings attached, has bolstered the odds of the far right and the pro-Russian groups gaining ground.
Such an outcome could prompt Poroshenko's loosely-knit coalition to splinter which would in turn imperil his pledge to apply for EU membership by 2020 and to make the shrivelled Soviet-era economy transparent and streamlined.
"With poverty growing, people may come out running to vote for the populist parties," Anatoliy Oktysyuk of Kiev's International Centre for Policy Studies told AFP.
"These elections are brutal and dirty. And they may not live up to our Western partners' hopes."
The demoralised mood of voters has been picked up by an astonishing 132 parties that use boastful slogans and colourful characters to draw in the media and prompt endless TV debates.