Occupied Ukraine holds Kremlin staged vote to join Russia

KYIV: Voting began Friday on whether occupied regions of Ukraine should become part of Russia, in referendums that condemned Kiev and the West as an illegitimate and faked attempt by Moscow to annex areas to the east and south after nearly seven months war.
During the vote, experts from the United Nations and Ukrainian officials pointed to new evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. Kharkiv region officials said a mass cemetery in the eastern city of Izium contained hundreds of bodies, including at least 30 that showed signs of torture.
The Kremlin-orchestrated referendums in Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya and Donetsk regions asked residents if they wanted the areas to be part of Russia. The vote under the supervision of the Moscow-installed authorities, which is scheduled to end on Tuesday, will almost certainly continue Kremlinhis way.
Russian-installed authorities in the Kherson region said residents of a small Moscow-controlled area of ​​the neighboring Mykolaiv region will also be able to vote, and that small area was “incorporated” into the Kherson region until all of Mykolaiv is taken over by Russian forces.
Ukraine and the West have denounced the vote as a sham and an illegal step toward annexing much of the country from the Russian border to the Crimean peninsula. A similar referendum took place in Crimea in 2014 before Moscow annexed it, a move most of the world considered illegal.
Election officials planned to bring ballots to homes in the first four days of voting and set up makeshift polling stations near residential buildings, according to Russian-installed officials in the occupied territories, citing security concerns. Russian state television on Friday morning showed teams of election officials moving into a residential area with one such group accompanied by a masked police officer with an assault rifle.
Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhya region, told The Associated Press that Russians and residents of Crimea have been brought to his city to encourage people to vote.
“The Russians see an overwhelming reluctance and fear to attend the referendum and are forced to take people with them … to create an image and an illusion of the mood,” he said. “Groups of employees and Russians along with armed soldiers are doing a door-to-door survey, but few people open the doors for them.”
Polling stations were also opened in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those regions could vote.
Denis Pushilin, the separatist leader of the Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region, called the referendum “a historic milestone.”
Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, addressed the regions in an online statement, saying: “If you decide to join the Russian Federation, we will support you.”
Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai accused Russian officials of removing the names of people who voted against. In online posts, Haidai also claimed that Russian officials threatened to kick down the doors of anyone who refused to vote, sharing photos of what appeared to be a few abandoned polling stations.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy only briefly mentioned the “sham” referenda in a speech in which he switched from speaking Ukrainian to Russian to directly tell Russian citizens that they were “thrown to their deaths”.
“You are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he said. ‘Because you were quiet. Because you are quiet. 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 stay healthy. For women in Russia, the choice is to lose their husbands, sons and grandchildren forever, or still try to protect them from death, from war, from one person.”
The vote takes place against the backdrop of relentless fighting in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian troops exchanging fire as both sides refuse to give up ground.
Oleh Synyehubov, Kharkiv Regional Governor, and the Region’s Police Chief, Volodymyr Timoshko, said at least 30 of the 436 bodies exhumed so far in Izium showed signs of torture. Among them were the bodies of 21 Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom were found with their hands tied behind their backs, they said.
Russian forces occupied Izium for six months before being driven out of the area by a Ukrainian counter-offensive earlier this month. The forest cemetery was discovered after residents said they should dig graves there.
The excavations, which began a week ago, are drawing to a close as researchers work to identify victims and the cause of death. There was a mobile DNA lab on the edge of the cemetery.
“Every body has its own story,” Synyehubov said.
Experts commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council also presented evidence of possible war crimes on Friday, including beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention centers, expressing deep concern about the killings the team was documenting in Kharkiv and the regions of Russia. Kiev, Chernihiv and Sumy.
As the referendums began, more men in Russia prepared to join the fight in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists, who could add about 300,000 troops, according to the defense minister.
In cities across the vast country, men hugged their crying relatives before leaving as part of the call, raising fears that a wider march could follow. Russian anti-war activists planned to protest the mobilization on Saturday.
Ukraine’s presidential office said at least 10 civilians have been killed and 39 others injured by Russian shelling in nine regions of Ukraine in the past 24 hours.
It said fighting in southern Kherson continued during the vote, as Ukrainian forces launched 280 attacks on Russian command posts, ammunition depots and weapons in the region.
Heavy fighting also took place in the Donetsk region, with Russian attacks targeting Toretsk, Sloviansk and several smaller towns. Russian shelling in Nikopol and Marhanets on the western bank of the Dnieper River killed two people and injured nine in Marhanets.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the number of military casualties could exceed 9,000 soldiers killed, as authorities still do not know how many died in the three-month siege of Mariupol, which started in May in May. hands of the Russians.
Malyar nevertheless said Ukraine’s losses were much smaller than Russia’s. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu previously reported that 5,937 Russian fighters were killed.

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