Moscow-controlled Ukraine regions in ‘fake’ vote to join Russia

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Voting has begun in Russia-controlled regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia, Moscow-backed officials there said on Friday, as Ukrainian and United Nations officials reported evidence of war crimes during the nearly seven-year war. months in the country.

The Kremlin-orchestrated referendums, which have been widely denounced by Ukraine and the West as shams without any legal force, are seen as a step towards Russia’s annexation of the territories. Voting will take place in the Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, partially controlled by Russia.

The governor of the Kharkiv region, which was largely in the hands of Russian forces before a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month, said Friday that 436 bodies had been exhumed from a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium, 30 of them with visible signs of torture.

Governor Oleh Synyehubov and the region’s police chief, Volodymyr Tymoshko, told reporters in Izium that three more graves have been located in areas recaptured by Ukrainian forces.

A team of experts commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council also presented evidence on Friday of crimes including beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention centers, as well as executions in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions. . But the commission’s chairman did not specify who or which side of the war committed most of the alleged crimes.

The referendum votes follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for a partial mobilization of reservists, which could add around 300,000 Russian troops to the fight. Voting will continue for five days until Tuesday.

Referendums asking residents whether they want their regions to be part of Russia are sure to go Moscow’s way. That would give Russia the pretext to claim that the Ukrainian forces’ attempts to regain control are attacks against Russia itself, dramatically escalating the war.

As the votes in the occupied regions progressed, Russian social media was filled with dramatic scenes of tearful families waving goodbye to men leaving military mobilization centers. In cities across the vast country, men hugged their tearful relatives before leaving as part of the recruitment. Russian anti-war activists, meanwhile, planned more protests against the mobilization.

Election officials will deliver ballots to people’s homes and set up makeshift polling stations near residential buildings for the first four days of the referendums, according to Russian-installed officials in the occupied regions, citing security reasons. Tuesday will be the only day voters will be invited to attend the regular polls.

Ballot boxes have also been opened in Russia, where refugees from the occupied regions can cast their votes.

Denis Pushilin, separatist leader of the Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region, called Friday’s referendum “a historic milestone.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, addressed the occupied regions on Friday in an online statement, saying: “If you decide to become part of the Russian Federation, we will support you.”

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said residents of the occupied regions voted “life or death” in referendums.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy only briefly mentioned “fake referendums” in his late-night speech in which he switched from speaking Ukrainian to Russian to directly tell Russian citizens that they are being “thrown to their death.”

“You are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he said. “Because you were silent. Because you are silent. And now it is time for you to choose. For men in Russia, this is a choice between dying or living, becoming crippled or preserving health. For women in Russia, the choice it is losing their husbands, children, grandchildren forever, or even trying to protect them from death, from war, from a single person”.

The vote takes place against the backdrop of incessant fighting in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanging fire as both sides refuse to give ground.

Ukraine’s presidential office said on Friday that at least 10 civilians were killed and 39 others wounded by Russian shelling in nine Ukrainian regions over the past 24 hours.

He said fighting has continued in the Russian-held south of Kherson despite the vote, while Ukrainian forces troops launched 280 attacks on Russian command posts, ammunition and weapons depots in the region.

Heavy fighting also continued in the Donetsk region, where Russian attacks targeted Toretsk and Sloviansk, as well as several smaller towns. Russian shelling in Nikopol and Marhanets on the west bank of the Dnieper River killed two people and injured nine in Marhanets.

Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region in southern Ukraine that borders the Kherson region, said explosions occurred in the city of Mykolaiv in the early hours of Friday.

Pro-Russian officials in the Zaporizhzhia region reported a massive explosion early Friday in the center of Melitopol, a city Moscow captured early in the war. Officer Vladimir Rogov did not provide details on what caused the explosion and whether there were any damages or casualties.

Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region also accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the city of Donetsk, the region’s capital, and the nearby town of Yasynuvata.

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