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In east, south of Ukraine, referendum on joining Russia enters 2nd day

People in Saint Petersburg attend a rally and a concert in support of a referendum in eastern and southern Ukraine, September 23, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Voting is under way in several regions of Ukraine for the second day of a referendum where residents will decide if they want to join the Russian Federation.

Moscow launched the referendum on Friday in the eastern areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

Russian news agencies said the turnout on the first day was between 15 and 24 percent, depending on the region.

Election officials, accompanied by police officers, carried ballots to homes and set up mobile polling stations due to safety reasons.

Voting will wrap up on Tuesday.

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow intends to quickly incorporate the occupied regions into the Russian Federation. Asked how long the recognition process would take, Peskov said he was “convinced that it will be quick enough.”

Polling stations were also set up in Moscow for residents of those regions currently living in Russia.

The referendum was organized after Kiev recaptured large parts in the northeast in a counteroffensive earlier this month.

President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will heed the will of the residents. The referendum follows his order of a partial military mobilization, which could add as many as 300,000 Russian conscripts to the battlefield in Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine has called on people to resist efforts to mobilize them to fight. “Hide from Russian mobilization in any way you can. Avoid draft orders. Try to move to the territory of free Ukraine,” he said, urging those who did end up in the Russian armed forces to “sabotage, interfere” and pass on intelligence to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the United States and its Western allies have threatened to impose additional sanctions on Russia. President Joe Biden has labeled the voting “a sham – a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force in flagrant violation of international law.”

“We will work with our allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia.”

In a reaction to the referendum, China has said the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected.” Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the comment at his meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the UN General Assembly on Friday.

Russia held a referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, when 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 it will never accept Russian control of any of its territory and will fight until the last Russian soldier is ousted.

On February 24, Putin ordered the launch of a military operation in Ukraine to demilitarize the country.

On Saturday, Russian forces launched new strikes on Ukrainian cities. In the meantime, the Russian Defense Ministry announced the dismissal of General Dmitry Bulgakov from the post of deputy defense minister in charge of military logistics. The ministry said Bulgakov will be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev. The reason of the dismissal remains unknown.

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