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Kiev says recaptured territory in east as referendum polls begin

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A service member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic stands guard at a polling station ahead of the planned referendum on the joining of the area to Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Photo by Reuters)

As Moscow’s representatives are holding a referendum on annexing parts of Ukraine to Russia, Kiev says its forces have retaken a village in the eastern Donetsk region and some other war-torn areas.

Oleksiy Gromov, a senior Ukrainian army official, told reporters on Friday that the Ukrainian army has recaptured the village of Yatskivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces had “regained control over positions to the south of Bakhmut,” Gromov added.

Bakhmut, a key city with a population of 70,000 before the war, is also located in the Donetsk region and has been under Russian attacks for months. Moscow’s forces have not been able to capture it so far.

While Ukraine claims to have freed parts of its territory from the occupation of Moscow’s military forces, a referendum was held on Friday to join Russia in four regions under Russian control.

Voting is being held in the breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk – already controlled by pro-Russia separatists and recognized by Moscow – as well as in the southern provinces of Kherson and Zaporizhia and will continue until September 27.

The voting process in the four regions would be nontraditional, Russia’s official TASS news agency reported. “Given the short deadlines and the lack of technical equipment, it was decided not to hold electronic voting and use the traditional paper ballots,” it said.

Russia currently controls most of Luhansk and Kherson, nearly 80 percent of Zaporizhzhia, and just 60 percent of Donetsk, according to wire reports.

The Ukrainian government, meanwhile, has censured the voting, insisting that the referendums were a sign of Russia’s weakness rather than strength.

In a similar referendum held in Crimea back in 2014, 97 percent of voters favored joining the Russian state amid condemnation by Kiev and its Western sponsors.

Ukraine, whose post-Soviet borders Russia recognized under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, insists that it will never accept Russian control of any of its territory and will fight until the last Russian soldier is ousted.

Putin, meanwhile, emphasized that Moscow would never abandon those in the regions it controls and whom he said wanted to secede from Kiev.

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