Russian forces are selecting people in occupied territories of Ukraine to force them to vote in the mock referendum – meanwhile, Putin has rejected a request from his generals.
Children in Cherson have not had to go to school since Friday, autumn is sunny and the temperature is 16 degrees. But the streets of the city in southern Ukraine are empty. And not just because the local population is afraid of the patrols of the occupation soldiers, who are increasingly ill-tempered, and the projectiles and improvised explosive devices that are now exploding frequently in the city area.
Above all, they are now afraid of the so-called referendum, because of which the Russians also closed educational institutions for five days. “Everyone is afraid that they will fall into the hands of a mobile electoral commission and be forced to vote,” says Stanislav (the editors’ full name known to the 37-year-old). “For us, this vote is a mockery.”
Russia referendums: Cherson no longer wants to abandon Putin
Kherson, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Dnieper River and the Black Sea, is the only regional capital of Ukraine that the Russian army has been able to control since the start of its offensives in February. At Cherson, the Russians first had to deal with protest rallies flying blue and yellow flags, then tacit refusals and bomb attacks. Now they are threatened with military disaster: the Ukrainians used the new and accurate NATO howitzers to destroy many bridges over the Dnieper. Now as many as 20,000 Russian soldiers at the bridgehead around Cherson fear being cut off and wiped out.
According to the New York Times, Putin refused his generals’ request to withdraw the menacing forces across the river. Like the Russian-controlled parts of the Donetsk, Lugansk, and Zaporizhia regions, Kherson must vote for them to become Russian territory. Putin no longer wants to abandon this city.
Russia’s referendums: a target for an impressive majority – on paper
The sham referendum, as the Ukrainians call it, is in full swing. In Lugansk and Donetsk, 76 percent of those entitled to vote were said to have already voted yesterday morning, and more than 50 in Zaporizhia and Cherson. “Only 50 percent of the electorate?” Stanislav scoffs. He doesn’t think the occupation authorities even know how many of the 290,000 Chersonese who lived in the city before the war are still here. Of these, only two to three percent share common cause with the Russians.
The object of the vote is to obtain an influential majority, at least on paper, to answer the affirmative vote question: “Do you support leaving the Kherson region of Ukraine, forming its own state and joining the Russian Federation as a whole subject?”
Russia’s referendums: Ukraine is a clumsy spectacle
The question remains open about when Russia will subsequently declare Kherson as part of it. But in the city and its besieged surroundings, one suspects that the Russians really care about how the citizens answer this question. “There are traveling poles in the stairwells, but they don’t even have a list of electors to go to,” Stanislaw says. “People who forced them to vote say the ballot papers are normal photocopies, not numbered.” As spektr.press writes, citing eyewitnesses, election commissioners and their bodyguards do not care about the law as a secret choice. “They prevented residents from going to another room to fill out their ballot papers.”
In Ukraine, referendums are seen as a clumsy spectacle. “We heard on Wednesday as a final result that 87 percent of the participants voted for Russia,” Petro Andryushenko, a member of the Russian-smashed Mariupol city council in Donbass, said in a TV interview. “Imagination doesn’t change anything,” says an advisor to the Ukrainian president, Mikhailo Podolyak.
Russia’s referendums: will men be conscripted here, too?
It is arguably the first referendum in European history to take place on the battlefield. In Cherson, where results similar to those in Mariupol are expected, on Monday a grenade hit the hotel where journalists from the Russian propaganda channel RT, as well as the former pro-Russian MP Oleksiy Shuravko, were staying. he died.
Recently, rumors circulated that after the referendum the occupation authorities want to force the male population to perform military service on a large scale, as in Donetsk and Lugansk. But Stanislav does not believe in such a comprehensive mobilization. The Russians will not dare to hand over weapons to their enemies.”