Four occupied Ukraine regions begin vote on joining Russia

Four occupied Ukraine regions prepare to vote on joining Russia.

Four occupied Ukraine regions, vote

Four areas of Russian-occupied Ukraine have started to hold referendums, which have been condemned as illegitimate by Kyiv and are seen as paving the way for Moscow to formally annex some 15 percent of Ukrainian territory.

Voting in Luhansk and Donetsk, self-proclaimed “independent republics” controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, as well as in southern Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces will continue until September 27.

“Given the short deadlines and the lack of technical equipment, it was decided not to hold electronic voting and use the traditional paper ballots,” it said.

Authorities will go door-to-door for the first four days to collect votes, and polling stations will open only on the final day for residents to cast their ballots.

The Russian-installed leaders of the four areas abruptly announced the plans on Tuesday after a lightning Ukraine counteroffensive recaptured swathes of territory in northeastern Kharkiv that Russia had occupied after invading the country on February 24.

The results are seen as a foregone conclusion in favour of annexation, and Ukraine and its allies have already made clear they will not recognise the outcome.

A similar referendum, held in Crimea after the Russian invasion of 2014, found 97 percent in favour of formal annexation in a vote that took place under the close watch of Russian soldiers and was not recognised by the international community.

The votes are seen as a significant escalation of the seven-month-old war in Ukraine — in which thousands have been killed and millions displaced — because incorporation would allow Moscow to claim that it was defending its own territory.

“If this is all declared Russia territory, they can declare that this is a direct attack on Russia so they can fight without any reservations,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian TV.

The referendums have been condemned by the United Nations and world leaders, including United States President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as international bodies such as NATO, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

OSCE, which monitors elections, said the outcomes would have no legal force because they do not conform with Ukraine law or international standards and fighting is continuing in the areas where the votes are taking place.

Some residents continued to leave ahead of the vote. Yulia, who fled Melitopol and preferred to share only her first name for fear of reprisals, travelled to Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia, but left her parents behind.

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