Kyiv, Ukraine – Many residents of the occupied territories fled. It is claimed that e-mail voting and e-polling are taking place even though there is no postal service or even electricity in many towns.
But another aspect of what Moscow’s proxies call referendums to join Russia casts particular doubt on the process: voting in the presence of armed soldiers, according to Ukrainian witnesses and officials.
“The so-called referendum is very much like an opinion poll under the cover of machine guns,” Serhiy Hayday, the Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region, wrote on Telegram on Saturday.
Residents described a frightening scene: soldiers with Masks covering their faces Escort poll workers from house to house with ballot papers. Soldiers stand alert while the ballot papers are filled out, leaving little doubt as to which box they expect to check.
“How can they say voting is voluntary when they come up with guns?” For her safety, Natalia, a resident of a village in the Kherson region who asked to be identified only by her first name, said in a phone interview on Saturday.
She said the villagers came out to receive the small delegation of two soldiers and three women with a ballot box.
“Some people put their ballot papers in the box,” Natalia said. “What happened to the box after that, I don’t know.”
Natalia said that she asked the soldiers why they were there, and they told her that they were guarding the women. Then she turned to the women.
“I asked,” Natalia said, “What are you so afraid of that you need to guard? “They were silent.”
Russia’s proxies hastily called referendums in four Ukrainian regions – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson – after the Ukrainian military drove Russian forces out of Kharkiv in a stunning counterattack earlier this month.
Ukrainian and Western officials categorically said they would Ignore the results What they consider “sham” referendums. They believe President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to eventually annex those parts of Ukraine – as Russia did with Crimea in 2014 – and then threaten tough responses if Ukraine continues military action on what the Kremlin will consider Russian territory.
Another suspected goal is to be able to recruit Ukrainians into the Russian army in occupied areas – and force them to fight their own compatriots in the war.
Ukraine’s military headquarters said in a statement on Saturday that draft notices had already been delivered in the Zaporizhzka and Kherson regions of southern Ukraine.
Much of the occupied territory where referendums are held is cut off from internet and mobile phone coverage, or in areas of active military combat – making any independent assessment of vote distribution or vote counting impossible. Russia claims Foreign observers are present, Although they do not appear to belong to internationally recognized bodies.
“Electoral commissions accompanied by armed soldiers roam the district and continue to chase voters,” Yury Sobolevsky, First Deputy Chairman of the Kherson Regional Council, wrote of polling officials carrying ballot papers from house to house. He said the polling stations were empty.
Two surveillance videos from the stairs of apartment buildings in the Zaporizhia region, posted online on Saturday by Dmitro Orlyov, the exiled mayor of the Ukrainian city of Enerodar, showed soldiers holding rifles and walking with women carrying transparent plastic ballot boxes.
“They enter buildings with weapons,” Mr. Orlioff said in a telephone interview. He said residents told him scenes of rude intimidation by soldiers. “They ring loudly, they ring the doorbell, they give the people the vote and they point their guns where the sign is.”
About three-quarters of the population have fled the area due to the fighting, Oleksandr Staruch, the governor of the Zaporizhia region, said Saturday, undermining any claim of a legitimate outcome.
Mr. Staruch also emphasized the influence of armed Russian soldiers in managing the voting process.
“It is not difficult to understand what mark people will put under the muzzles of automatic weapons,” he wrote on Telegram.