Moscow-held regions of Ukraine in ‘sham’ vote for joining Russia

Voting began Friday in Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine over referendums to become part of Russia, Russian-backed officials there said.

The Kremlin-orchestrated referenda, widely denounced by Ukraine and the West as a sham without legal force, are seen as a step towards Russia’s annexation of the territories.

Voting will take place in the Luhansk, Kherson and partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhia and Donetsk regions.

The vote, in which residents will be asked whether their regions should become part of Russia, will certainly go in Moscow’s direction. This would give Russia an excuse to claim that attempts by Ukrainian forces to regain control were attacks on Russia itself, which would dramatically escalate the seven-month war.

The referendums follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for a partial mobilization that could increase the fighting by about 300,000 Russian soldiers. Voting will continue for five days through Tuesday.

As voting began in the occupied territories, Russian social media sites were full of dramatic scenes of tearful families saying goodbye to men leaving military mobilization centers. In cities across the vast country, men hugged their weeping family members before departing as part of conscription. Meanwhile, Russian anti-war activists were planning further protests against the mobilization.

Election officials will deliver ballots to people’s homes and set up makeshift polling stations near residential buildings during the first four days of referendums, according to officials deployed by Russia in the occupied territories, citing security reasons. Tuesday is the only day voters are invited to the regular elections.

A serviceman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic stands guard at a polling station in Donetsk, Ukraine, September 22, 2022.
A serviceman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic stands guard at a polling station in Donetsk, Ukraine, September 22, 2022.

Polling stations have also been opened in Russia where refugees from the occupied territories can cast their votes.

Denis Pushilin, separatist leader of the Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region, called Friday’s referendum “a historic milestone”.

Addressing the occupied regions in an online statement on Friday, Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, said: “If you decide to become part of the Russian Federation, we will support you.”

Valentina Matviyenko, Chairwoman of Russia’s Upper Parliament, said that residents of the occupied territories would vote on “life or death” referendums.

A service member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic walks past a banner on the doors of a polling station ahead of the scheduled referendum on the Donetsk People's Republic's accession to Russia September 22, 2022 in Donetsk, Ukraine. The banner reads: "District Commission of Referendum No. 17008".
The referendums follow Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization order.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made only brief mention of the “sham referendums” in his late-night address, in which he switched from Ukrainian to Russian to directly tell Russian citizens that they will be “thrown to their deaths.”

“They are already accomplices in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he said. “Because you were silent. because you are silent And now it’s time for you to choose. For men in Russia, this is a choice to die or live, become a cripple or stay healthy. Women in Russia have a choice to lose their husbands, sons and grandchildren forever or still try to protect them from death, from war, from one person.”

The vote comes amid incessant fighting in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanging fire as both sides refuse to cede ground.

On Friday morning, pro-Russian officials in the Zaporizhia region reported a loud explosion in central Melitopol, a city Moscow captured earlier in the war. Official Vladimir Rogov did not provide any information about what caused the explosion and whether there were any damages or casualties.

Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region also accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the city of Donetsk, the region’s capital, and the nearby town of Yasynuvata.

Ukrainian officials, in turn, reported fresh rounds of Russian shelling in different parts of the country. Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolayiv region of southern Ukraine, which borders the Kherson region, said explosions sounded in the city of Mykolayiv in the early hours of Friday.

Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said the Russians fired a volley of shells at Nikopol, a town across the Dnieper from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, on Friday morning. Moscow-held regions of Ukraine in ‘sham’ vote for joining Russia


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