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

Head of the Central Election Commission of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Vladimir Vysotsky visits a polling station ahead of the planned referendum on the accession of the Donetsk People’s Republic to Russia in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Sept. 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

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

The referenda, which violate international law that upholds Ukraine’s sovereignty, could pave the way for Moscow to view the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive as an attack on Russia itself.

The poll takes 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, which will be asked only in Russian, will be: “Are you in favor of the accession of the DPR to the Russian Federation in terms of the rights of a national of the Russian Federation?” The self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Luhansky uses the same wording.
  • In Khersonthe question will be: “Do you support the separation of the Kherson region from the state of Ukraine, the formation of an independent state by the Kherson region and accession to the Russian Federation as a national of the Russian Federation?”
  • And in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhyathe question is in both Russian and Ukrainian, and it reads: “Do you vote FOR the secession of the Zaporizhia Oblast from Ukraine, the formation of the Zaporizhia Oblast as an independent state, and the accession to the Russian Federation as a sub-state? entity of the Russian Federation?”

In both the Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya regions, local authorities have urged people to vote from home because they can deliver ballot boxes.

Read:In challenge to West, Russia unfurls plan to annex swathes of Ukraine

Before the vote, pro-Russian authorities are trying to get voters excited. The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti showed a poster distributed in Luhansk, which read “Russia is the future”.

“We are united by a 1000-year history,” it reads. “For centuries we were part of the same great country. The breakup of the state was a huge political disaster. … It is time to restore historical justice.”

A military vehicle drives down a street with a billboard reading "With Russia Forever, September 27" ahead of a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 22.
A military vehicle drives through a street with a billboard that reads “With Russia Forever, September 27” ahead of a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 22. (AP)

In a statement, the election observation group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, condemned the “illegal referenda”.

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

Read:Ukraine brushes off Russian plan to annex occupied regions

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

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