Russia begins referendums aimed at annexing four occupied Ukrainian regions . Residents of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia are voting on whether they should become part of Russia .
KYIV (KYIV): On Friday, Russia began referendums aimed at annexing four occupied Ukrainian regions, raising the stakes of the seven-month-old war in what Kyiv called a coercive sham, in which residents were threatened with death if they did not vote.Following Ukraine's recapture of massive swaths of northeastern territory earlier this month as part of a counteroffensive against the invasion that began on Feb. 24, the negotiations on whether the regions should become part of Russia began.The Kremlin appears to be attempting to regain control of the conflict after Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed a military draft this week to recruit 300,000 troops to serve in Ukraine.Moscow could interpret attacks in these four areas in Russia as an assault on Russia itself, sending an alert to Kyiv and Western allies.Thousands of thousands of people have died as a result of the war, millions more have been displaced, and the global economy has been devastated.The referendums had been debating for months by Moscow-installed authorities in the four regions in Ukraine's east and southeast, but Kyiv's latest battlefield victories sparked a scramble to schedule them.From Friday to Tuesday, voting will take place in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia, which cover about 15% of Ukraine's territory.For residents of those regions that now reside in Russia, polling stations were also established in Moscow. On messaging app Telegram, Yuriy Sobolevsky, the displaced Ukrainian first deputy chairman of the Kherson regional council, said today, the best thing for the people of Kherson would be not to open their doors.Ukraine, Western states, and the United Nations have labelled the referendums as an unlawful, choreographed precursor to unlawful annexation.There will be no independent observers, and a significant portion of the pre-war population has fled.The outcomes, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), would have no legal value because they did not comply with Ukraine law or international standards, and the towns are not safe. The Russians are in a panic because they were unable to carry out this so-called referendum so quickly, there was no support, and there were not enough people, according to Khersons Sobolevsky, a messaging service.The plebiscites were characterized by Gaidai as elections without elections.People were being forced to fill out sheets of paper without privacy in kitchens and residential yards, with towns closed off so people could not leave to avoid voting, he said.The allegations of coercion were not immediately confirmed by Reuters. The referendum is now open for voting on the status of Russia in the Zaporizhzhia region as a part of the Russian Federation.We're coming home, said Vladimir Rogov, a representative from Russia's re-election team.According to Russia's TASS news agency, two cars with Ukrainian saboteurs had entered the region and were being dealt with.Reuters was unable to verify the report. Moscow would not have an upper hand in the referendums.Oleksandr Yaroshenko, 65, a resident of Kyiv's capital, told Reuters that it is all nonsense, bluff, and political manipulation to terrorize us and other Western countries with their nuclear stuff.Russia used a referendum as a pretext for annexation in Ukraine's Crimea in 2014, which the international community has not accepted.Insisting on the Kremlin's wisdom in staging the referendums, ex-President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the national security council, warned Moscow that any assault on the four regions would subsequently be considered one on Russia. Putin maintains that Russia is carrying out a special military operation to demilitarise Ukraine, depose nascent nationalists, and protect Ukraine from NATO.According to Kyiv and the West, the war is an unprovoked, imperialist attempt to recapture a nation that shook off Russian dominance with the Soviet Union's partition in 1991.On Friday, Erik Mose, the head of a UN-mandated investigation commission, said that war crimes including executions, rape, torture, and inmates were committed in Russian-occupied Ukraine.He cited visits to 27 locations and interviews with over 150 victims and witnesses. Russia denies deliberately assaulting civilians in the war and insists that allegations to the contrary are a propaganda campaign.