Russian sham referendums in Ukraine: Forced “show of will”

Questionnaires for the mock referendum on annexation to Russia are being distributed in the occupied Ukrainian city of Cherson. Many residents are afraid.

A woman hangs a picture of Vladimir Putin on the wall.  Below are stacks of ballot papers

Preparations for the "referendum" in Donetsk - the planned result is already hanging on the wall Photo: Valery Melnikov/Imago

"Are you in favor of the Kherson region leaving the Ukrainian state union, the formation of an independent state on the territory of the Kherson region and its incorporation into the Russian Federation as part of it?" Russian-controlled Kherson region on September 22. The “questionnaire” for parts of the neighboring Zaporizhia region is worded in a similar way.

On September 22, Marina Zakharova, appointed by the Russian military to head the so-called Central Election Commission of the Kherson region, announced the procedure for conducting the so-called referendums and the question posed therein.

“At first glance one might think that this 'questionnaire' contains several questions. In fact, it's just one question," she explained. On September 20, the Russian military administration and its local collaborators announced that they would hold these “referendums” from September 23 to 27 in the areas of Ukraine temporarily occupied by Russia.

750,000 "questionnaires" were printed for the Kherson region alone, to which the occupiers "added" several districts currently controlled by them from the adjacent Mykolaiv region. They also announced the establishment of eight "territorial electoral commissions" and 198 "district electoral commissions". And this despite the fact that the number of residents still remaining in the Cherson region is many times lower in real terms.

Propaganda videos featuring pro-Russian residents

For comparison: The electoral rolls for the October 25, 2020 local elections registered 806,000 voters. However, many mayors of cities and municipalities in the Cherson region report that between 65 and 85 percent of the residents have now left their home towns.

In addition, it is not clear how the occupiers intend to hold the "referendum" in the municipalities of Novovorontzovka and Vysokopillya, which are currently partially under the control of the Ukrainian army.

In preparation for the “referendum”, the occupiers hastily sent the head of the occupation administration of the region, Volodimir Saldo, back to Kherson. They circulated video interviews on social media with residents who support the area's annexation to Russia.

All of the people interviewed are real people, people who have become collaborators for various reasons. For example, because they got some post.

With a submachine gun at hand

The videos also show local nursing homes that house people with physical disabilities and those with mental illnesses. Among them are residents of a home in Kakhovka, whose passports and bank cards were confiscated by the occupiers in June, leaving them completely dependent on the will of the Russian military.

The remaining residents of the Cherson region learned about the planned “referendum” from Russian television channels.

“We haven't heard anything about the referendum in our city. Nobody informed us about it, there was no advertising, we didn't even know when it was supposed to take place. Now we are afraid that we will be forced by force and machine guns to go to these 'polling stations' and put our crosses there. We don't want Russia here at all and we are waiting for our liberation by the Ukrainian army," says a resident of the city of Nova Kakhovka, who wished to remain anonymous.

Residents of the neighboring town of Kachowka report that advertisements for the forthcoming “referendum” are now being made in the town, but many people are not being reached. "After many Chechens and other occupiers showed up here in the city, all my acquaintances and I try to stay out of the streets as much as possible.

It's just pretty bad outside: the Russian soldiers have billeted in our schools and kindergartens. They drive around the hospital all the time, shooting, kidnapping people. We'll go buy bread or groceries again. I myself also try not to look to the left or right, so as not to see the Russian flags. I get sick just looking at them,” says a resident of Kakhovka.

Fear of forced conscription into the Russian army

Locals are convinced that the organizers have already prepared the results of the "referendum" and that their participation or non-participation in this spectacle will not change anything.

And they have already experienced new restrictions from the occupiers in connection with the alleged "expression of will": The Russians restricted the freedom of movement of people outside their settlements and the Kherson region for the period from September 23 to 27.

Immediately after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday the partial mobilization on its territory, there were problems with the departure of men of military age from the Cherson region.

People fear that in the event of the so-called annexation of their region to Russia, all men would be forcibly conscripted into the Russian army and forced to fight against their compatriots, friends and relatives. Something similar is already happening in the occupied regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and in Crimea.

From Russian Gaby Coldewey

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