Ukrainian officials say residents of Russian-occupied areas ignore referendums held by Kremlin-backed local authorities, but they have acknowledged that in some cases residents are coerced into voting.
The referendums, called Tuesday in four Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine, have been widely denounced by Western governments as a sham and are being conducted with few or no international observers beyond Russian delegations.
“There is no referendum as such. It is an imitation. Local residents ignore it. Some people are simply forced to vote. There were buses of people who brought it from Crimea to vote,” said Andriy Yusov, a Ukrainian defense intelligence official. CNN.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said it had uncovered documents showing that the separatist-backed, Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic planned to expand the electorate by involving teenagers under the age of 18 in the vote.
In order to tighten control over “turnout”, Donetsk officials decided that minors should be accompanied to polling stations by their parents, guardians or representatives of so-called orphanages, the SBU added.
Pro-Russian officials in the occupied areas enthusiastically pushed the referendums as a historic change.
“Today is a day that happens in history once every few centuries. Personally, I knew it would happen, always. I always felt that I was part of a big family called Russia. Dreams have come true,” said Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-backed leader. of the administration of the Kherson region, said on his Telegram channel.
In voting, Saldo said he was sure that as a member of the Russian Federation, “our Kherson region and, above all, its people will be protected. Protected in every way.”
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, also voted, saying: “I feel a sense of admiration and confidence that what we have been fighting for so long is finally coming true. It’s back home. greater Russia. History is being made today.
Voting continues until Tuesday.