September 24, 2022

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Voting started Friday in Moscow-held areas of Ukraine on referendums to develop into a part of Russia, Russian-backed officers there mentioned.

The Kremlin-orchestrated referendums, which have been extensively denounced by Ukraine and the West as shams with none authorized pressure, are seen as a step towards annexing the territories by Russia.

The votes are being held within the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk areas.

The vote, which asks residents if they need their areas to be a part of Russia, is definite to go Moscow’s means. That will give Russia the pretext to say that makes an attempt by Ukrainian forces to regain management are assaults on Russia itself, dramatically escalating the seven-month warfare.

The referendums comply with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order of a partial mobilization, which may add about 300,000 Russian troops to the battle. The balloting will proceed for 5 days by Tuesday.

Because the votes had been getting underway within the occupied areas, Russian social media websites had been filled with dramatic scenes of tearful households bidding farewell to males departing from army mobilization facilities. In cities throughout the huge nation, males hugged their weeping relations earlier than departing as a part of the draft. Russian anti-war activists, within the meantime, deliberate extra protests towards the mobilization.

Election officers will probably be bringing ballots to folks’s properties and organising makeshift polling stations close to residential buildings throughout the first 4 days of the referendums, based on Russian-installed officers within the occupied areas, who cited security causes. Tuesday would be the solely day when the voters will probably be invited to come back to common polls.

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Polls additionally opened in Russia, the place refugees from the occupied areas can forged their votes.

Denis Pushilin, separatist chief of Moscow-backed authorities within the Donetsk area, referred to as the referendum on Friday “a historic milestone.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s decrease home of parliament, the State Duma, addressed the occupied areas Friday in an internet assertion, saying: “In the event you determine to develop into a part of the Russian Federation — we’ll assist you.”

Valentina Matviyenko, chair of Russia’s higher parliament home, mentioned that residents of the occupied areas had been voting for “life or demise” on the referendums.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy solely briefly talked about the “sham referenda” in his nightly deal with through which he switched from talking in Ukrainian to Russian to immediately inform Russian residents they’re being “thrown to their deaths.”

“You’re already accomplices in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he mentioned. “Since you had been silent. Since you are silent. And now it’s time so that you can select. For males in Russia, it is a option to die or reside, to develop into a cripple or to protect well being. For ladies in Russia, the selection is to lose their husbands, sons, grandchildren perpetually, or nonetheless attempt to defend them from demise, from warfare, from one individual.”

The voting takes place towards the backdrop of incessant preventing in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanging hearth as either side refuse to concede floor.

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On Friday morning, pro-Russia officers within the Zaporizhzhia area reported a loud blast within the middle of Melitopol, a metropolis that Moscow captured early on within the warfare. Official Vladimir Rogov didn’t supply any particulars as to what brought on the explosion and whether or not there was harm and casualties.

Moscow-backed authorities within the Donetsk area additionally accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the town of Donetsk, the area’s capital, and the close by metropolis of Yasynuvata.

Ukrainian officers, in flip, reported new rounds of Russian shelling in varied components of the nation. Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv area in southern Ukraine that borders the Kherson area, mentioned explosions rang out within the metropolis of Mykolaiv within the early hours of Friday.

Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk area, mentioned the Russians unleashed a barrage of shelling on Nikopol, a metropolis throughout from the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear energy plant, on Friday morning.