Occupied Ukraine holds Kremlin-staged vote on joining Russia
KYIV, Ukraine — A Kremlin-orchestrated referendum got underway Friday in occupied regions of Ukraine that sought to make them part of Russia, with some officials carrying ballots to apartment blocks accompanied by gun-toting police. Kyiv and the West condemned it as a rigged election whose result was preordained by Moscow.
This grim reminder of the brutality and seven-month-old invasion was reinforced by new evidence from U.N. officials and Ukrainian officials pointing to Russian war crimes. Kharkiv region officials said a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium held hundreds of bodies, including at least 30 displaying signs of torture.
The referendums in the Luhansk and Kherson regions, as well as the partially Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia (and Donetsk) regions were widely interpreted as a prelude for Moscow’s annexation of the regions. The Kremlin is almost certain that the Russian-installed authorities will oversee Tuesday’s voting.
Authorities in the Kherson region said residents of a small Moscow-controlled area of the neighboring Mykolaiv province also will be able to vote, and that small area was “incorporated” into Kherson until all of Mykolaiv is taken over by Russian forces.
Ukraine and the West said the vote was an illegitimate attempt by Moscow to slice away a large part of the country, stretching from the Russian border to the Crimean Peninsula. Similar referendums were held in Crimea in 2014 just before Moscow annexed it. This move was widely condemned by the rest of the world.
Election officials carried ballots to homes and set up mobile polling stations in the four-day voting period, with officials cited safety reasons. Russian state TV showed one such team, accompanied by an assault rifle-wielding police officer.
Ivan Fedorov (the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia), stated to The Associated Press, that Russians and residents from Crimea were brought into his town to encourage people to vote. The Russians are afraid and reluctant to participate in the referendum so they force people to come to their city to make it seem like they are there. “Groups of collaborators and Russians along with armed soldiers are doing a door-to-door poll, but few people open the doors to them.”
Voting also occurred in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those regions cast ballots.
Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-backed separatist leader in the Donetsk region, called the referendum “a historical milestone.”
Lawmaker Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s State Duma, said in an online statement to the regions: “If you decide to become part of the Russian Federation, we will support you.”
Thousands attended pro-Kremlin rallies across Russia in support the referendums, news agencies reported. One speaker said to the large crowd at a Moscow rally and concert entitled, “We Don’t Abandon our Own.” “
Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai claimed that officials had taken down names of those who voted against Russia joining. Haidai claimed that Russian officials threatened to shut down any voter who didn’t want it.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy only briefly mentioned the “sham” referendums in an address. He switched from speaking Ukrainian to Russian to tell Russian citizens that under President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization order Wednesday, they were being “thrown to their deaths.”
“You are already accomplices in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he said. “Because you were silent. Because you are silent. Now it’s your turn. This is the choice for men in Russia. They can choose to live or die, to become disabled or to keep their health. For women in Russia, the choice is to lose their husbands, sons, grandchildren forever, or still try to protect them from death, from war, from one person.”
Putin’s partial mobilization of reservists could add about 300,000 troops, his defense minister said. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, dismissed media reports that he planned to mobilize up to 1.2million troops.
Men embraced their grieving family members before leaving the country as part of the call up. This has raised concerns about a wider draft. More protests were planned for Saturday by antiwar activists.
Other Russian men tried to flee the country by buying up plane tickets and creating traffic jams at borders that stretched for hours, if not days. Some people walked to the border with Kazakhstan after the cars backed up so much that they abandoned their cars. This was just like what happened to the Ukrainians in February when Russia invaded their country. 24.
Russian authorities sought to calm public fears over the call-up. Russian authorities sought to calm public fears over the call-up by introducing a bill to suspend or reduce loan payments to those called to service. Media emphasised that they would be paid the exact same as professional soldiers and that their civilian jobs will be kept for them.
According to the Tass news agency, the Defense Ministry stated that many people working in high-tech, finance, communications, or finance would be exempt from this rule.
Despite the mobilization and referendums the horrors of war continued.
Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Synyehubov and regional police chief Volodymyr Tymoshko said at least 30 of the 436 bodies exhumed so far in Izium bore signs of torture. Among them were the bodies of 21 Ukrainian soldiers, some found with their hands bound behind their backs, they said.
Russian forces occupied Izium for six months before being pushed out by a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month. Investigators are working to identify victims and determine how they died. The exhumations began last week. A mobile DNA laboratory was parked at the cemetery’s edge.
“Each corpse has its own story,” Synyehubov stated.
Experts commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council also presented evidence of potential war crimes, including beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention facilities, and expressed grave concerns about extrajudicial killings the team was working to document in Kharkiv and the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy. Russia reacted strongly to the fact that the war in Syria was causing Moscow more isolation. Anataly Antonov, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, stated at a Moscow conference on Friday about the 1962 Cuban missile crises that Washington wants Russia “to its knees” and “several fiefdoms”, while removing its nuclear weapons and permanent seat at U.N. Security Council.
In new reports of fighting, Ukraine’s presidential office said 10 civilians were killed and 39 others were wounded by Russian shelling in nine regions. It said that fighting continued in the south Kherson province during the election, and that Ukrainian forces launched 280 strikes on Russian command posts, weapons depots, and munitions depots.
Heavy fighting continued in Donetsk where Russian attacks on Toretsk and Sloviansk as well as several smaller towns was also ongoing. Two people were killed and nine others were injured by Russian shelling at Nikopol and Marhanets, on the western bank the Dnieper River.
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Izium contributed.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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