Ukrainian officials say residents of Russian-occupied regions are ignoring referendums organized by local Kremlin-backed authorities, but they have acknowledged that in some cases residents are being forced to vote.
The referendums, called Tuesday in four parts of Ukraine under Russian control, have been widely characterized by Western governments as a fraud and are being conducted with few or no international observers other than delegations from Russia.
Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) said it had uncovered documents showing the Russian-backed separatist-held Donetsk People’s Republic plans to expand the electorate by including teenagers younger than 18 in the vote.
In order to strengthen control over the “officials”, Donetsk officials decided that minors should be accompanied to the polling stations by their parents, guardians or representatives of so-called orphanages, SBU added.
Pro-Russian officials in the occupied territories enthusiastically pushed the referendum as a historic change.
“Today is a day that happens in history once every few centuries. I personally knew that it would happen, always. I always felt I was part of a huge family called Russia. Dreams have come true,” Vladimir Saldo, the Russian- Bakt head of the Kherson region administration, said on his Telegram channel.
While casting his ballot, Saldo said he was confident that as part of the Russian Federation, “our Kherson region and most importantly its people will be protected. Protected in every way.”
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, also lent his voice, saying: “I feel a sense of awe and confidence that what we fought for so long is finally coming true. This is home coming.” Great Russia, history is made today.”
Voting continues until Tuesday.