KYIV, Ukraine – Most of the population of the occupied territories has left. Postal and electronic voting takes place ostensibly despite the lack of postal service or electricity in many cities.
But another aspect of Moscow’s proxies calling for the referendum to join Russia casts particular doubt on the process: voting in the presence of armed soldiers, according to witnesses and Ukrainian officials.
“The so-called referendum is like a poll under the guise of machine guns,” Serhei Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region, wrote in a Telegram on Saturday.
Residents described an ominous scene: soldiers with Balaclavas covered their faces Election workers also go door to door with ballot papers. Once the ballots have been filled out the players stand, leaving no doubt as to which box they are expected to check.
“How can they say they’re voting with guns?” Natalia, who lives in a village in Kherson region and asked to be identified only by her first name for security reasons, said in a phone interview Saturday.
Villagers welcomed the small delegation of two soldiers and three women with a ballot box, he said.
“Some people put the ballot in the box,” Natalia said. “Then what happened to Betty, I don’t know.”
Natalia said she asked the soldiers why they were there and they said they were protecting the women. Then she turned to the girls.
“I asked, ‘What are you afraid of that you need to be protected?'” Natalia said. “They were quiet.”
Russian representatives urgently called for referendums in four Ukrainian regions: Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson.
Ukrainian and Western officials have confirmed Ignore the results They consider it a “fake” poll. President Vladimir v. They believe that is Putin’s intention.
Another dubious goal is to conscript Ukrainians into the Russian army in the occupied territories – forcing them to fight alongside their own countrymen in war.
Ukraine’s military headquarters said in a statement on Saturday that draft notices had already been issued in southern Ukraine’s Zaporizka and Kherson regions.
Much of the occupied territory where polls are held is cut off from Internet and cell phone coverage or areas of intense military conflict — making it impossible to independently assess ballot distribution or vote counts. Russia says There are foreign visitors They do not seem to belong to internationally recognized bodies.
“Electoral commissions with armed soldiers roam the region, constantly hunting voters,” wrote Yurii Sobolevskyi, first deputy chairman of the Kherson regional council, about election workers taking ballots door-to-door. He said the polling stations were empty.
Two surveillance videos posted online on Saturday from the stairwells of apartment buildings in the Zaporizhia region showed exiled Ukrainian city mayor Dmytro Orlyov walking with women holding guns.
“They enter buildings with weapons,” said Mr. Orlyov said in a telephone interview. He said residents described scenes of crude intimidation by soldiers to him. “They bang loudly, they ring the bell, they hand out ballots to people and point their guns at the markings.”
Oleksandr Starukh, the governor of the Zaporizka region, said on Saturday that three-quarters of the population had fled the region because of the fighting, undermining any claim to a just outcome.
The influence of armed Russian soldiers in managing the vote was also discussed by Mr. Starruk insisted.
“It is not difficult to understand what people will aim under the muzzles of automatic weapons,” he wrote in a telegram.
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