‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja
Russian-installed officials in occupied regions of Ukraine have reported huge majorities in favour of becoming part of Russia after five days of voting in so-called “referendums” that Kyiv and its allies have condemned as illegitimate and a sham.
Hastily arranged votes took place in four areas — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson — that make up about 15 percent of Ukrainian territory.
Luhansk authorities said 98.4 percent of people there had voted to join Russia. In Zaporizhia, a Russian-appointed official put the figure at 93.1 percent. In Kherson, the head of the voting committee said the “yes” vote was above 87 percent.
Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said 99.2 percent of participants in the region had voted to join Russia. In all four areas, officials said all the ballots had been counted.
Within the occupied territories, ballot boxes were taken from house to house in what Ukraine and its allies have called an illegitimate, coercive exercise to create a legal pretext for Russia to annex the four regions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could then portray any Ukrainian attempt to recapture its territories as an attack on Russia itself. He said last week he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend the “territorial integrity” of Russia.
As voting concluded, the United Nations Security Council held an open session on the referendums in New York City.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the body in a virtual address shortly after word came that residents in the Zaporizhia region had reportedly voted to join Russia.
“In front of the eyes of the whole world Russia is conducting this so-called sham referendum on the occupied territory of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “People are forced to fill out some papers while being threatened by submachine guns.”
People who had left the four regions for Russia were also able to vote and state news agency RIA said early counts showed numbers in excess of 96 percent in favour of the Ukrainian territories coming under Moscow’s rule.
Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who is now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, posted a brief celebratory message on Telegram. “The referendums are over,” he said. “The results are clear. Welcome home, to Russia!”
No peace talks
Ukraine has repeatedly warned that Russian annexation of territories would destroy any chance of peace talks with Moscow, which began its invasion seven months ago.
Zelenskyy said the votes meant there could be no negotiation.
The votes were hastily arranged within a few days after Ukraine routed Russian forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region, and made gains in the south as a September counteroffensive gathered momentum.