Moscow-controlled Ukraine regions in ‘fake’ vote to join Russia

Moscow-controlled Ukraine regions in ‘fake’ vote to join Russia

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Voting began on Friday in Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine in referendums to become part of Russia, Russian-backed officials said.

The Kremlin-orchestrated referendums, which have been widely denounced by Ukraine and the West as a farce without any legal force, are seen as a step towards Russia’s annexation of the territories.

Voting is being held in the Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, which are partially controlled by the Russians.

The vote, which asks residents if they want their regions to be part of Russia, is sure to go Moscow’s way. This would give Russia the pretext to claim that attempts by Ukrainian forces to regain control are attacks on Russia itself, dramatically escalating the seven-month war.

The referendums follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for a partial mobilization, which could add as many as 300,000 Russian troops to the fight. Voting will continue for five days through Tuesday.

While voting was underway in the occupied regions, Russian social media sites were filled with dramatic scenes of weeping families saying goodbye to men departing military mobilization centers. In cities across the vast country, men hugged their weeping family members before departing as part of the recruitment. Meanwhile, Russian anti-war activists have planned more protests against the mobilization.

Election officials will take ballots to people’s homes and set up makeshift polling stations near residential buildings during the first four days of the referendums, according to Russian officials in the occupied regions, who cited security reasons. Tuesday will be the only day voters will be invited to attend the regular polls.

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Polls have also opened in Russia, where refugees from occupied regions can vote.

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

Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, addressed the occupied regions on Friday in an online statement, saying: “If you decide to become part of the Russian Federation – we will support you.”

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house, said residents of the occupied regions were voting “life or death” in the referendums.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy only briefly mentioned the “fake referendums” in his nightly speech in which he switched from speaking in Ukrainian to Russian to directly telling Russian citizens that they are being “thrown to their deaths”.

“You are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he said. “Because you were silent. Why are you silent. And now it’s time for you to choose. For men in Russia, this is a choice to die or live, to become crippled or to preserve health. For women in Russia, the choice is to lose their husbands, children, grandchildren forever, or to try to protect them from death, from war, from a person.”

The vote comes against a backdrop of incessant 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 massive explosion in central Melitopol, a city that Moscow captured at the start of the war. Officer Vladimir Rogov did not provide details on what caused the explosion and whether there were any damage or casualties.

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

Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, reported new rounds of Russian bombing in various parts of the country. Vitaliy Kim, governor of Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv region, which borders the Kherson region, said explosions occurred in the town of Mykolaiv in the early hours of Friday.

Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said the Russians unleashed a barrage of bombing raids on Nikopol, a town across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, on Friday morning.

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