Occupied Ukraine holds Kremlin-staged vote on joining Russia

KYIV: Voting begins on Friday on whether occupied areas of Ukraine should become a part of Russiain referendums that Kyiv and the West denounced as an illegal and fraudulent attempt by Moscow to annex regions to the east and south after nearly seven months of war.
Between the votes, UN experts and Ukrainian officials pointed to new evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. Kharkiv region officials said a mass burial site east of the city of Izium contained hundreds of bodies, including at least 30 with signs of torture.
The referendums are held by the Kremlin in Luhansk, Kherson and partly controlled by Russia Zaporizhzhia and the Donetsk regions asked residents if they wanted these areas to be part of Russia. The vote, overseen by the authorities installed by Moscow, is expected to run through Tuesday, almost certainly. Kremlinthat way.
The Russian-established authorities in the Kherson region said residents of a small Moscow-controlled area in the vicinity of Mykolaiv will also be able to vote and that the small area has been “incorporated” into the zone. Kherson region until all of Mykolaiv was taken over by the Russians. force
Ukraine and the West condemned the vote as a sham and an illegal step towards the annexation of a large part 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 that most of the world considers illegal.
Election officials planned to bring ballots to homes and set up makeshift polling stations near residential buildings for the first four days of voting, according to Russian-installed officials in the regions. occupied, who stated safety reasons. Russian state television on Friday morning showed groups of election officials traveling to residential areas, with one such group accompanied by a masked police officer carrying an assault rifle.
Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Ukraine Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region, told the AP news agency that Russians and Crimean residents had been brought to his city to urge people to vote.
“Russians feel too reluctant and afraid to attend the referendum and are forced to bring people in … to create an image and illusion of the vote,” he said. “Groups of collaborators and Russians along with armed soldiers are doing a door-to-door exploration, but very few are opening the door for them.”
Polls were also opened in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those regions could vote.
Denis Pushilin, the separatist leader of the Moscow-backed government in the Donetsk region, called the referendum “a historic milestone”.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, addressed the regions in an online statement, saying: “If you decide to become part of the Russian Federation, we will support you. friend.”
Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai accused Russian officials of downgrading those who voted against. In online posts, Haidai also alleges that Russian officials threatened to bang on the doors of those who didn’t want to vote and shared photos of what appeared to be a pair of deserted polling stations.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy only briefly mentioned “fake” referendums in a speech in which he switched from speaking Ukrainian to Russian to directly tell Russian citizens that they were being “stoned in the ground.” died”.
“You have been accomplices in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he said. “Because you were silent. Because you are silent. And now it’s time for you to choose. For men in Russia, this is a choice to die or live, to become disabled or to preserve their health. For women in Russia, the choice is to lose their husband, son, or grandchild forever, or still try to protect them from death, from war, from a person.”
The vote comes amid relentless fighting in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian forces bartering as both sides refuse to make concessions.
Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov, and regional police chief, Volodymyr Tymoshko, said at least 30 of the 436 bodies unearthed so far in Izium show signs of torture. Among them were the bodies of 21 Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom were found with their hands tied behind their backs.
Russian forces occupied Izium for six months before being driven out of the area by a Ukrainian counterattack earlier this month. The forest burial site was discovered after residents said they were forced to dig there.
The excavations, which began a week ago, are coming to an end, as investigators work to determine the victim and cause of death. A mobile DNA laboratory was parked at the edge of the burial ground.
“Each body has its own story,” says Synyehubov.
Experts commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council also presented evidence Friday of potential war crimes, including beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention facilities, and The Times expressed serious concern about the killings the group was working to document in Kharkiv and the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.
As the referendums began, many men in Russia prepared to join the war in Ukraine. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilization of part of the reserve troops, which the defense minister said could add about 300,000 troops.
In cities across the vast country, men hugged crying family members before departing as part of the call, which has raised fears that a broader draft could may happen. Russian anti-war activists had planned to hold protests against the campaign on Saturday.
At least 10 civilians were killed and 39 others wounded by Russian shelling in nine Ukrainian regions in the past 24 hours, the office of the president of Ukraine said.
It said fighting continued south of Kherson during the vote, while Ukrainian troops faced 280 attacks on Russian command posts, ammunition and weapons depots in the region.
Fierce fighting also continued in the Donetsk region, where Russian attacks have targeted Toretsk, Sloviansk and several smaller towns. Russian shelling of Nikopol and Marhanets on the west bank of the Dnieper River killed two and wounded nine in the Marhanets.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said military casualties could be higher than the 9,000 soldiers reported killed in action as authorities still don’t know how many people died during the prolonged siege of Mariupol. 3 months, which fell to the Russian army in May.
However, Malyar said Ukraine’s losses were much smaller than Russia’s. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu According to earlier reports, 5,937 Russian warplanes were killed.

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