Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has vowed to liberate the entire country as Russia pressed on with its supposed referendum in occupied areas of Ukraine and so-called election workers accompanied by masked gunmen knocked on doors to get people to vote.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s armed forces would throw the Russian forces out and retaliate against “every strike of the aggressor”. He pledged that Ukraine’s armed forces would regain control of the southern Kherson region and the eastern Donbas, which includes Luhansk province and Crimea.
“Every murderer and torturer will be brought to justice for what he did against Ukrainians,” he said.
Reports posted on Telegram groups from occupied areas suggest the local population has overwhelmingly boycotted the Kremlin’s referendum stunt, which began on Friday. The process finishes on Tuesday, and Vladimir Putin is expected to declare this week that these territories belong to Russia.
On Sunday, locals described a shambolic voting process, largely staged for Russian state television. In the city of Khakova, officials went from house to house, fumbling with intercoms, while two soldiers with assault rifles stood nearby. Most residents refused to open their doors.
In the southern seaside village of Stanislav, a resident reportedly walked with two Russian service personnel, collecting signatures. Some of those who have taken part in the vote, smiling for the cameras, are Russian citizens bussed in from Crimea. A few elderly Ukrainians have participated, social media reports suggested.
The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk province, Serhiy Haidai, dismissed the exercise as a farce. He said those taking part in the poll voted in the open. Anyone who ticked the “no” box on union with Russia was marked down in a notebook and added to a “list of the untrustworthy”, he said. In some cases, armed men bashed down doors.
Haidai said Moscow had inflated the turnout figures in cities that were now almost empty because of fighting. They include Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk and Rubizhne, which the Russian army pulverised and then seized over the summer. Turnout was put at 41%-46%, he said, despite the fact that tens of thousands of people have fled.
The Kremlin had postponed plans for a referendum because of a lack of support, but they were hastily revived last week in the wake of a series of Russian military setbacks. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s armed forces recaptured almost all of Kharkiv oblast, and they are pushing forward towards the southern city of Kherson, occupied since March.
On Wednesday, Putin declared a partial mobilisation of up to 1 million soldiers. The announcement prompted protests in Moscow and St Petersburg, and violent scuffles on Sunday with police in Dagestan, a multi-ethnic republic in the North Caucasus. Video showed people firing in the air as crowds demanded the release of relatives who had been conscripted.
More than 2,000 people have been detained across Russia for protesting against the draft, according to OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group. Many men of military age have been crossing into Georgia or Finland in an attempt to avoid Russia’s first mobilisation since the second world war.
In Ukraine, fighting continued. According to Russian media sources, a former Ukrainian deputy who collaborated with Moscow, Oleksii Zhuravko, was killed in Kherson, along with one other person. A missile strike demolished a hotel where Zhuravko had been holding a meeting, it was reported. He had left Ukraine for Russia in 2015.
The military administration in the Black Sea port of Odesa confirmed the use by Moscow of Iranian-supplied kamikaze drones. Serhii Bratchuk, a spokesperson for the region, said the city centre was hit three times, with no casualties. One Russian drone was shot down. Ukraine’s southern command claimed to have killed 57 Russian troops and said it had destroyed 30 pieces of equipment.
Read Nore:Zelenskiy vows to liberate all of Ukraine as Russian ‘vote’ continues