Russia rounds up Ukraine voters at gunpoint for staged referendums


KYIV, Ukraine — Officials in Russian-occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine were forcing people to vote “under a gun barrel,” residents said on Saturday as staged referendums — intended to validate Moscow’s annexation of the territory it occupies — entered their second day.

Voting is taking place in portions of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions and will last five days, ending Tuesday. The outcome is not in doubt.

The purported referendums are illegal under Ukrainian and international law and would not remotely meet basic democratic standards for free and fair elections. Western leaders, including President Biden, have denounced the process as a “sham” to prepare the ground for Russia’s theft of Ukrainian land.

In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke directly to the Russians, warning that “no tricks will help the occupier.”

Moscow officials and their separatist proxies have said that they expect the vote to be in favor of absorbing the areas, a process that will be completed “promptly” once the results are official, according to the Kremlin.


Four regions

where staged

referendums

on joining Russia

are being held

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Control areas as of Sept. 23

Sources: Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project

Ukrainian reclaimed territory

through counteroffensives

Four regions

where staged

referendums on

joining Russia

are being held

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Control areas as of Sept. 23

Sources: Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project

Ukrainian reclaimed territory

through counteroffensives

Four regions

where staged

referendums on

joining Russia

are being held

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Control areas as of Sept. 23

Sources: Institute for the Study of War

The speed at which the referendums were announced and carried out and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Russian reserves, all within one week, reflect the Kremlin’s tacit acknowledgment of its deteriorating position in Ukraine. After invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 and failing to take the capital, Kyiv, Russian forces have been pushed back in the country’s northeast and are coming under pressure along the front lines of the war.

Hundreds more people were arrested Saturday during demonstrations in Russia against the mobilization.

Zelensky appealed to the protesters directly by switching to Russian for part of his nightly address on Saturday. “Russian commanders do not care about the lives of Russians — they just need to replenish the empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled or the Russian soldiers that were captured,” he said.

Russia rounds up Ukraine voters at gunpoint for staged referendums

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