From this Friday, the eve of the seven-month anniversary of the invasion, until next Tuesday, the pro-Russian occupation authorities hold consultations on the annexation to Russia in four regions of Ukraine. None of them is totally under his control and combats take place in all of them. The first day has passed between denunciations by the kyiv authorities of imposing the vote on the population, even with the presence of armed men along with the people who carried the ballot boxes and who went to the houses, to the workplaces or to the hospitals claiming the votes.
The Government of President Volodímir Zelenski has released a video in which a woman with a megaphone in hand walks down the street approaching different houses to ask the inhabitants to participate. The Ukrainian governor of the Lugansk region, Sergei Gaidai, one of the territories where the consultations are held, has denounced that those who do not open the door of their house or intend to say no to the union with Russia are threatened.
There are no observers to ensure the proper holding of a process that the international community considers illegal and to which no body grants official recognition. The Kremlin’s intention is to settle its positions in these territories, as it did in 2014 in the Crimean peninsula. Few doubt that the plebiscites in Donetsk, Lugansk —two almost entirely occupied provinces—, Zaporizhia and Kherson —partially controlled— will yield a result favorable to the interests of the organizers. Moscow’s objective in seeking the annexation of these territories is to have the possibility of increasing the military response of its Army in the event of aggression: the moment Russia considers that these regions are part of its territory, it would consider itself entitled to respond with all the harshness in the face of possible attacks by forces loyal to kyiv.
These referendums come at a delicate moment for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who has had to make a move in the face of the defeats he has accumulated on the battlefield in the last two weeks. The president has announced a controversial mobilization of the population to face the conflict, which has led thousands of young people to flee the country to avoid going to war. The advance of the Ukrainian troops has forced a rapid withdrawal of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers deployed for months in northeastern Ukraine. The exchange of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners carried out on Thursday was also not well received in Moscow.
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To increase participation in the pseudo-referendums of the Ukrainian regions, the organizers are allowing minor citizens, between the ages of 13 and 17, who are accompanied by their parents or guardians, to vote, authorities in kyiv revealed on Thursday to through information from the secret services. Also, adds the same source, it is planned to bring families from the Donetsk region who are living in Russia.
“Do you support the incorporation of the republic into the Russian Federation with the rights of an entity of the Russian Federation?”, appears written in Russian on the ballot of the voting centers enabled in Donetsk and Lugansk, according to the agency Eph. In Zaporizhia and Kherson it can be read in both Ukrainian and Russian: “Are you in favor of the region leaving Ukraine, creating a sovereign state and joining the Russian Federation?”
Marina, a 56-year-old former teacher from the Kherson region, says she has no intention of voting in what she calls “a terrible theater performance”. “I suppose that they will end up forcing us to position ourselves, this is, basically, for that; It is clear that the result is rigged, ”says the woman through a messaging application, who decided to stay despite the Russian occupation to take care of her very old parents. In Melitopol, a woman who, for fear of being identified, asked not to give her name, explains that personnel related to the authorities imposed by the Kremlin are going to the houses with the ballots so that the citizens can vote right there, in the presence of she. “They say it’s for security,” says the woman, reports María Sahuquillo. In fact, the schools are only going to open on the last day of consultations, on Tuesday, September 27, adds Efe. From this Friday, the authorities will be collecting the ballots from homes due to the war that is being waged in the country.
The governor of Lugansk has denounced that many citizens are being forced to vote, as published on his profile on the social network Telegram. Gaidai, the legitimate authority of that Ukrainian region almost entirely controlled by Moscow, further adds that the Russians prepared video equipment to “film propaganda stories” about the vote.
“At a company in Bilovodsk, the boss announced to all employees that attendance was mandatory. Those who do not participate in the vote will be automatically dismissed and the lists of those who do not appear will be handed over to the security services of the Luhansk People’s Republic [como se autodenomina la autoridad prorrusa]”, warns Gaidai. In a second case, in Starobilsk, continues this Ukrainian governor, “the occupation authorities prohibited the local population from leaving the city between September 23 and 27 [las fechas entre las cuales se extiende la consulta]. According to the available information, the occupants are forming armed groups to patrol houses and force people to participate in the so-called referendum”, explains Gaidai.
A military man votes in Lugansk, a territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia. AP
Gaidai assures that the electoral commissions are accompanied by armed men who collect the votes house by house and also take the opportunity to check if there are men of fighting age in the home to mobilize them for war. “They are looking for cannon fodder,” says the governor dependent on the kyiv Government.
Before a single ballot paper has been introduced in the polls, the international community has already announced that the result of those referendums considered illegal will not be recognized. This has been stated by the United Nations, NATO, the European Union or the United States. Moreover, the kyiv authorities say they do not intend to alter their objective of maintaining the counteroffensive deployed in the northeast of the country that has allowed them to recover the Kharkov region and that has improved their positions on the battlefield to vacate Russian positions in Donetsk. and Luhansk.
The consultations are held in a territory that accounts for approximately 15% of the 600,000 square kilometers of Ukraine. It is there, in those four regions in the east and south of the neighboring country, where Russia is now concentrating its efforts.
On February 21, Putin signed a decree to, according to him, give official status to the two self-proclaimed independent people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. At the same time, he announced the dispatch of “peacekeeping” troops to those territories. That was the prologue to the invasion that he ordered right after and that began at dawn on the 24th.
Before the aggression that began that day, the industrial zone of Donbas, which is occupied by the two provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk, in eastern Ukraine, had already been the scene of a war between pro-Russian militiamen supported by Moscow and the Ukrainian Army since 2014. . The fact that the troops loyal to kyiv have gained more than 8,000 square kilometers in Kharkov since the beginning of September allows them to position themselves at the gates of the coveted Donbas. It is there where the Ukrainian military hopes to continue opening a gap these days; and where Putin hopes to reform his military presence with the latest measures announced.
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