Separatist leaders in four Ukrainian regions say referendums on joining Russia have begun

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Head of the central electoral commission of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people's republic Vladimir Vysotsky visits a polling station ahead of the planned referendum on the joining of the Donetsk people's republic to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine, on September 22.
Head of the central electoral commission of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic Vladimir Vysotsky visits a polling station ahead of the planned referendum on the joining of the Donetsk people’s republic to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine, on September 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Four areas of Ukraine occupied by pro-Moscow forces are preparing to hold referendums on formally joining Russia, in a move widely seen as a forgone conclusion in support of annexation.

The referendums, which run counter to international law upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty, could pave the way for Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself.

Polling is set to take place over five days from Friday to Tuesday.

The questions on the ballot vary slightly depending on the region. 

  • In the Donetsk People’s Republic, the question, presented only in Russian, will be: “Are you in favor of joining of the DPR to the Russian Federation on the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation?” The self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic uses the same phrasing.
  • In Kherson, the question will be: “Are you in favor of the secession of the Kherson region from state of Ukraine, the formation of an independent state by the Kherson region and its joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?”
  • And in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia, the question is in both Russian and Ukrainian, and it reads: “Do you vote FOR the secession of Zaporizhzhia Oblast from Ukraine, the formation of Zaporizhzhia Oblast as an independent state and its accession to the Russian Federation as a sub-entity of the Russian Federation?”

In both Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, local authorities have urged people to vote from home, saying that ballot boxes can be brought to them. 

Ahead of the votes, pro-Russian authorities are trying to enthuse voters. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti showed a poster being distributed in Luhansk, which read “Russia is the future.” 

“We are united by a 1,000-year history,” it says. “For centuries, we were part of the same great country. The break-up of the state was a huge political disaster. … It’s time to restore historical justice.”

A military vehicle drives along a street with a billboard reading
A military vehicle drives along a street with a billboard reading “With Russia forever, September 27” prior to a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 22. (AP)

In a statement, election monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, condemned the “illegal referenda.”

“Any so-called ‘referenda’ planned by or with the support of the forces illegally exercising de facto control in the occupied territories of Ukraine would be in contravention of international standards and obligations under international humanitarian law, and their outcome will therefore have no legal force,” said the OSCE, which monitors elections across 57 member states.

Ukraine has dismissed the referendums in the occupied regions as a “sham” stemming from the “fear of defeat,” while the country’s Western supporters have made clear they would never recognize Russia’s claim to annexed Ukrainian territory.



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