Voting begins in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia
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Kyiv, Ukraine — Voting began Friday in Moscow-held regions of Ukraine for referendums to become part of Russia, Russian-backed officials there said.
The referendums orchestrated by the Kremlin, which werewithout any legal force, they are seen as a step towards the annexation of territories by Russia.
Voting is taking place in Lugansk, Kherson and the partially Russian-controlled regions of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk.
The votes, which ask residents whether they want their regions to be part of Russia, will surely go Moscow’s way. That would give the Kremlin the pretext to claim thatthere are attacks on Russia itself, which are increasing dramatically .
Referendums follow Russian President Vladimirwhich could add about 300,000 Russian troops to the fray. Voting will continue for five days until Tuesday.
As voting began in the occupied regions, Russian social media sites were filled with dramatic scenes of tearful families saying goodbye to men leaving military mobilization centers. In cities across the country, men hugged their grieving family members before leaving as part of the draft.
Russian anti-war activists, meanwhile, planned more protests against the mobilization. Large-scale demonstrations that followed the announcement of the partial call saw more than 1,000 arrests, according to an independent monitoring group. Flights from Russia were said to be filling up and outbound traffic lines at the border with Finland and other countries were kilometers long at one point. Traffic was still heavy on Friday morning, Reuters news agency reported.
Election officials will deliver ballot papers to people’s homes and set up makeshift polling stations near residential buildings in the first four days of the referendum, according to Russian-installed officials in the occupied regions, who cited security concerns. Tuesday will be the only day voters will be invited to come to the polls regularly.
Polls have also opened in Russia, where refugees from the occupied regions can cast their votes.
Denis Pushilin, the separatist leader of the Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region, called Friday’s referendum “a historic milestone”.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, addressed the occupied regions in an online statement on Friday, saying: “If you decide to be part of the Russian Federation – we will support you.”
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, said that residents of the occupied regions voted “for life or death” in the referendums.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy only briefly mentioned the “fake referendums” in his late-night speech, where he switched from speaking in Ukrainian to Russian to directly tell Russian citizens they were being “thrown to death”.
“You are already complicit in all these murders, murders and tortures of Ukrainians,” he said. “Because you are silent. Because you are silent. And now it is time to choose. For the men of Russia, this is a choice to die or live, to become crippled or to keep their health. For the women of Russia , the choice is to lose their husbands, sons, grandchildren forever, or still try to protect them from death, from war, from one person.”
The vote comes against the backdrop of ongoing fighting in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanging fire as both sides refuse to give ground.
On Friday morning, pro-Russian officials in the Zaporizhzhia region reported a powerful explosion in the center of Melitopol, a city Moscow captured at the start of the war. Official Vladimir Rogov did not provide details on what caused the explosion and whether there were any damages or casualties.
Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region have also accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the city of Donetsk, the region’s capital, and the nearby town of Yasynuvata.
Ukrainian officials, for their part, reported new rounds of Russian bombing in various parts of the country. Vitaliy Kim, the governor of southern Ukraine’s Mykolaiv region, which borders Kherson region, said the explosions erupted in the city of Mykolaiv in the early hours of Friday.
Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk region, said the Russians launched a barrage of bombings on Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, on Friday morning.
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