Ukrainians have reported armed troopers going door-to-door in occupied components of the nation to gather votes for self-styled “referendums” on becoming a member of Russia.
“You have to answer verbally and the soldier marks the answer on the sheet and keeps it,” one lady in Enerhodar informed the BBC.
In southern Kherson, Russian guardsmen stood with a poll field in the center of the town to gather individuals’s votes.
The door-to-door voting is for “security”, Russian state media says.
“In-person voting will take place exclusively on 27 September,” Tass reported. “On the other days, voting will be organised in communities and in a door-to-door manner.”
One lady in Melitopol informed the BBC that two native “collaborators” arrived with two Russian troopers at her mother and father’ flat, to present them a poll to signal.
“My dad put ‘no’ [to joining Russia],” the lady mentioned. “My mum stood nearby, and asked what would happen for putting ‘no’. They said, ‘Nothing’.
“Mum is now fearful that the Russians will persecute them.”
The woman also said there was one ballot for the entire household, rather than per person.
Although the evidence is anecdotal, the presence of armed men conducting the vote contradicts Moscow’s insistence that this is a free or fair process.
Experts say the self-styled referendums, taking place across five days, will allow Russia to claim – illegally – four occupied or partially-occupied regions of Ukraine as their own.
In other words, a false vote on annexation, seven months into Russia’s invasion.
The “annexation” would not be recognised internationally, but could lead to Russia claiming that its territory is under attack from Western weapons supplied to Ukraine, which could escalate the war further.
British Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, said the UK had evidence that Russian officials had already set targets for “invented voter turnouts and approval charges for these sham referenda”.
Mr Cleverly said Russia planned to formalise the annexation of the four regions – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – by the end of the month.
A source in Kherson told the BBC there was no public effort to encourage voting, apart from an announcement on the Russian news agency that people can vote at a port building, which had been disused for 10 years.
Another woman in Kherson said she saw “armed militants” outside the building where the vote seemed to be taking place. She pretended to forget her passport, so she didn’t have to vote.
The woman said all her friends and family were against the referendum. “We do not understand how our life can be after this referendum,” she said. “It could be very obscure what they need to do.”
Kyiv says the referendums will change nothing, and its forces will continue to push to liberate all of the territories.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent mobilisation of at least 300,000 extra troops has caused many Russian men of fighting age to flee.
One young Russian man who left St Petersburg for Kazakhstan to avoid the draft told BBC World Service’s Outside Source programme that that most of his friends were also on the move.
“Right now, I really feel prefer it’s a complete collapse. I do know solely possibly one or two people that do not take into consideration exile proper now,” he said.
He said some, like him, are travelling across the border, whereas others have gone to small Russian villages to hide.
“The massive drawback of Russia is that we did not take into consideration the struggle in Ukraine in February as we give it some thought proper now,” he mentioned.
- Additional reporting by Hanna Chornous and Daria Sipigina in Ukraine
What is being asked in the ‘referendums’?
- In the self-declared, unrecognised Luhansk and Donetsk “individuals’s republics”, people are being asked whether they “help their republic’s accession to Russia as a federal topic”
- In Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, they are being asked if they “favour the area’s secession from Ukraine, creation of an unbiased nation and subsequent accession to Russia as a federal topic”
- In Luhansk and Donetsk, ballots are printed in Russian only
- In Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, the ballot is in Ukrainian and Russian
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