March 27 (UPI) -- Experts say Ukrainian voters are being bombarded with disinformation as the country nears its national election this weekend, as thousands march in the streets to oppose President Petro Poroshenko.
Demonstrators are rallying in the streets against Poroshenko, who's embroiled in a corruption scandal involving state-owned defense supplier Ukroboronprom. Critics say the scheme allowed several government officials to profit by selling equipment at several times the market rate and laundering the money.
An investigation by Ukraine's National Anti-corruption Bureau said the level of corruption in the defense sector, the influence of those involved and rooting out the schemes pose a "serious challenge." The bureau has already charged some officials in the scandal.
A Gallup poll this month found just 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their government, the lowest level in the world for the second straight year.
Ukrainian officials are particularly concerned about Russian cyber threats, as Kiev has already accused Moscow of computer-based attacks in the run-up to the vote. Power grids and other essential infrastructure are also at risk, they say.
Facebook has banned all political ads bought outside Ukraine and purged suspicious or malicious accounts on both Facebook and Instagram. Officials said some were linked to a Russian state news agency, but posed as Ukrainians. Others mimicked the behavior of Russia's Internet Research Agency, which ran interference online during the 2016 U.S. campaign.
Voters will choose a prime minister and lawmakers on Sunday. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will be in Ukraine to monitor the election.
Some Ukrainians have lost faith in mainstream politicians and are supporting other candidates, including comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who's polling around 25 percent. The incumbent Poroshenko, who's been in power since 2014, trails with about 17 percent.
Another candidate is natural gas magnate and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost to Poroshenko five years ago. Known for sparking the pro-Western 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, she has promised to root out corruption and find money stolen from the Ukrainian government.
If none of the candidates receive 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff.
Analysts say the volatility in Ukraine has been profitable for U.S. defense contractors which sell anti-tank systems. U.S. Army officials have called for improving Ukraine's sniper capabilities and bolstering their navy, particularly after an incident last year in the Kersh Strait where Ukrainian boats were seized by Russian authorities.