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Controversial referendums on whether Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine will join Russia began on Friday, according to Russian-backed officials.
The referendums ask whether some Ukrainians want their regions to be part of Russia. The votes, which are expected to tip in favor of Russia, have been denounced by both Ukrainians and Westerners, who accuse it of being an illegal step towards annexation.
The referendums concern four occupied territories and will probably be used by the Kremlin to justify the annexation of Ukrainian territories and thus intensify the Russian-Ukrainian war.
The votes are taking place in the regions of Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk, partially controlled by Russia.
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In the early days, residents will have ballots brought to them by poll workers, who will also set up makeshift polling stations. Russian-installed officials cited “security reasons” for their voting processes.
Residents will be invited to vote at regular polling places next Tuesday, which is the last day of referendums.
If the votes are in favor of Russia, it would provide the Kremlin with a pretext to say that Ukrainian forces are directly attacking Russia trying to regain control of the disputed regions.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referred to “fake referendums” in one of his late night speeches, when he also called Russian citizens “accomplices in all these crimes”.
“You are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and tortures of Ukrainians,” the Ukrainian president said in Russian. “Because you were silent. Because you are silent. And now it’s time for you to choose”
“For men in Russia it is a choice to die or live, to become crippled or to preserve health,” Zelenskyy added. “For women in Russia, the choice is to lose their husbands, sons, grandchildren forever, or to try to protect them from death, from war, from one person.”
As voting began on Friday, Russian social media sites were reportedly flooded with moving scenes of families bidding farewell to men leaving for the military draft, according to the Associated Press.
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Referendum votes will end on September 27.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.