KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Voting started Friday in Moscow-held areas of Ukraine on referendums to change into a part of Russia, Russian-backed officers there mentioned.

The Kremlin-orchestrated referendums, which have been broadly denounced by Ukraine and the West as shams with none authorized pressure, are seen as a step towards annexing the territories by Russia.

The votes are being held within the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk areas.

People walk in a street with a billboard that reads: "Our choice - Russia", prior to a referendum in Luhansk, Luhansk People's Republic controlled by Russia-backed separatists, eastern Ukraine, on Sept. 22, 2022.
Individuals stroll in a avenue with a billboard that reads: “Our alternative – Russia”, previous to a referendum in Luhansk, Luhansk Individuals’s Republic managed by Russia-backed separatists, japanese Ukraine, on Sept. 22, 2022.

The vote, which asks residents if they need their areas to be a part of Russia, is for certain to go Moscow’s method. That may give Russia the pretext to assert that makes an attempt by Ukrainian forces to regain management are assaults on Russia itself, dramatically escalating the seven-month war.

The referendums observe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order of a partial mobilization, which might add about 300,000 Russian troops to the combat. The balloting will proceed for 5 days via Tuesday.

Because the votes was getting underway within the occupied areas, Russian social media websites have been stuffed with dramatic scenes of tearful households bidding farewell to males departing from army mobilization facilities. In cities throughout the huge nation, males hugged their weeping relations earlier than departing as a part of the draft. Russian anti-war activists, within the meantime, deliberate extra protests towards the mobilization.

Election officers might be bringing ballots to folks’s properties and establishing makeshift polling stations close to residential buildings throughout the first 4 days of the referendums, in keeping with Russian-installed officers within the occupied areas, who cited security causes. Tuesday would be the solely day when the voters might be invited to come back to common polls.

Polls additionally opened in Russia, the place refugees from the occupied areas can solid their votes.

Denis Pushilin, separatist chief of Moscow-backed authorities within the Donetsk area, known as the referendum on Friday “a historic milestone.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s decrease home of parliament, the State Duma, addressed the occupied areas Friday in a web based assertion, saying: “In the event you resolve to change into a part of the Russian Federation — we are going to help you.”

Valentina Matviyenko, chair of Russia’s higher parliament home, mentioned that residents of the occupied areas have been voting for “life or loss of life” on the referendums.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy solely briefly talked about the “sham referenda” in his nightly tackle during which he switched from talking in Ukrainian to Russian to straight inform Russian residents they’re being “thrown to their deaths.”

“You might be already accomplices in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” he mentioned. “Since you have been silent. Since you are silent. And now it’s time so that you can select. For males in Russia, it is a option to die or reside, to change into a cripple or to protect well being. For ladies in Russia, the selection is to lose their husbands, sons, grandchildren eternally, or nonetheless attempt to defend them from loss of life, from battle, from one particular person.”

The voting takes place towards the backdrop of incessant combating in Ukraine, with Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanging fireplace as either side refuse to concede floor.

On Friday morning, pro-Russia officers within the Zaporizhzhia area reported a loud blast within the middle of Melitopol, a metropolis that Moscow captured early on within the battle. Official Vladimir Rogov didn’t provide any particulars as to what precipitated the explosion and whether or not there was harm and casualties.

Moscow-backed authorities within the Donetsk area additionally accused Ukrainian forces of shelling town of Donetsk, the area’s capital, and the close by metropolis of Yasynuvata.

Ukrainian officers, in flip, reported new rounds of Russian shelling in varied components of the nation. Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv area in southern Ukraine that borders the Kherson area, mentioned explosions rang out within the metropolis of Mykolaiv within the early hours of Friday.

Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk area, mentioned the Russians unleashed a barrage of shelling on Nikopol, a metropolis throughout from the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear energy plant, on Friday morning.

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