Kremlin holds referendum on joining Russia in Ukraine

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Kremlin holds referendum on joining Russia in Ukraine

The Kremlin held a referendum on joining Russia in parts of Ukraine under its control. It's widely seen as a sham that is expected to culminate in the annexation of the areas.

KYIV, Ukraine -- Moscow began orchestrating referendums on joining Russia in areas it occupies in Ukraine on Friday, an effort seen as a sham that is expected to culminate in the annexation of an area larger than Portugal. While the Kremlin has used referendums and annexation to exert its will, the boldness of President Vladimir V. Putin's gambit in Ukraine far exceeds anything it has tried before. Huge numbers of people have fled the areas Russia controls, the process has been rushed and referendums are taking place against a backdrop of oppression - with U.N. experts citing evidence of war crimes in a forceful new statement. He said that the wording on the ballots was in accordance with international law, but even before the first vote, the referendum plans were met with international condemnation. President Biden spoke to the UN General Assembly this week, saying that if nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then the global security order established to prevent World War II from repeating itself will be imperiled. Russian proxy officials in four regions -- Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, Kherson and Zaporizka in the south -- earlier this week announced plans to hold referendums over four days beginning on Friday. Russia controls nearly all four of the four regions, Luhansk and Kherson, but only a fraction of the other two, Zaporizka and Donetsk. Ukrainian officials dismissed the vote as a grotesque theater - staging polls in cities laid to waste by Russian forces and abandoned by most residents. President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Ukraine's allies for their steadfast support and said the farce of sham referenda would not change his nation's fight to drive Russia from Ukraine.

The Russian-controlled southern city of Melitopol was rocked on Friday morning by an explosion. Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor, warned residents to stay away from Russian military personnel and equipment. To give the appearance of widespread participation, minors aged 13 to 17 have been encouraged to vote, the Security Services of Ukraine warned on Thursday. Ukrainian officials said workers were forced to vote under threat of losing their jobs. The exiled mayor of the occupied city of Enerhodar, the satellite town of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the south, told residents to stay away from polling stations. He said to stay at home and do not open the door to strangers, and that is what he said in a message posted on Telegram. Olha, who had been communicating with friends in Enerhodar on Thursday night and who did not want to use her full name out of concern for her safety, said preparations had been going on for weeks and security had been tightened.

Residents in occupied areas and Ukrainian officials expressed concern that one of the first consequences of annexation would be the conscription of Ukrainians into the Russian military. It is already the case in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk occupied by Russia since 2014. Andriy, 44, who has friends and relatives in Kherson, said he had spoken with friends who said it wasn't possible to leave the city because of the referendum. He said that those who are smart sit at home and don't go anywhere.