The Ukrainian army announced on Friday (23) that it had liberated a city in Donetsk, in the east of the country, from the Russians, as pro-Russian authorities in the occupied regions organize referendums on annexation to the country ruled by Vladimir Putin.
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“The Ukrainian army has recovered Yatskivka,” Oleksii Gromov, the Ukrainian military chief of staff, announced on television.
The capture of this city, on the eastern bank of the Oskil River, appears to confirm the continuation of a counter-offensive that has already allowed Ukraine to liberate several thousand square kilometers in the neighboring region of Kharkiv.
“The Ukrainians have also re-established their control over positions south of Bakhmut,” a major city in the Donetsk region that has been repeatedly bombed by the Russians in recent weeks, Gromov added.
Russia holds secession referendums in conquered Ukraine regions
Russia started referendums on Friday aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine, raising the stakes of the war in what Kiev called an illegal farce, with residents threatened with punishment if they do not vote.
Voting on whether the regions should become part of Russia began after a Ukrainian counteroffensive earlier this month.
The referendums were discussed for months by the authorities installed by Moscow in the four regions – in the east and southeast of Ukraine. Kiev’s recent battlefield victories have prompted action to schedule votes.
The referendum in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, which represent about 15% of Ukrainian territory, is expected to take place from Friday to Tuesday (27).
Russia annexation referendum polling place in Donetsk — Photo: REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
By incorporating the four areas into Russia, Moscow could portray the attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself, a warning to Kiev and Western supporters.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin also this week announcing a military conscription for 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine, the Kremlin appears to be trying to regain the upper hand in the conflict.
Putin said on Wednesday that Russia “will use all means at our disposal” to protect itself, an allusion to nuclear weapons.
Russia’s war has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and devastated the global economy.
A soldier of the pro-Russian separatist forces in Luhansk votes in a referendum, September 23, 2022 — Photo: AP
Serhiy Gaidai, Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, said that in Starobilsk, Russian authorities had banned the population from leaving the city until Tuesday and Armed groups were sent to search homes and coerce people out to participate in the referendum.
“Today, the best thing for the people of Kherson would be not to open their doors,” Yuriy Sobolevsky, the first displaced Ukrainian vice president of the Kherson regional council, said on the messaging app Telegram.
The referendums have been condemned by Ukraine, Western leaders and the United Nations as a illegitimate and choreographed precursor to illegal annexation. There will be no independent observers, and much of the pre-war population has fled.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors elections, said the results would have no legal relevance as they do not comply with Ukrainian law or international standards, and the areas are unsafe.
Gaidai said that in the Russian-controlled city of Bilovodsk, a company director told employees that voting was mandatory and that anyone who refused to participate would be fired and their names disclosed to security services.
Russia maintains that referendums provide an opportunity for people in the region to express their opinion.
Ukraine says it will never accept Russian control of any territory and will fight until the last Russian soldier is driven out.
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