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Ukrainians, afraid of Russia's referendums, leave their settlements

Ukrainians, afraid of Russia's referendums, leave their settlements

After seven months of war, many Ukrainians fear more suffering and political repression lies ahead, as referendums orchestrated by the Kremlin with the help of armed police predict Russia's imminent annexation of the four occupied regions.

Many residents fled the regions before the referendums began, fearing they would be forced to vote or could be conscripted into the Russian army.

The referendums, denounced by Kiev and its Western allies as rigged, are taking place in the Russian-controlled Luhansk and Kherson regions, and in the occupied areas of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions. They are widely seen as a pretext for annexation, and Russian authorities are expected to declare the regions as their own once voting ends on Tuesday.

The Kremlin has used this tactic before. In 2014, it held a hastily called referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region to justify its annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, a move that was denounced as illegal by much of the world.

Ukrainian authorities have told residents of four Russian-occupied regions they will face criminal penalties if they vote and advised them to leave.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who began mobilizing more troops for the war last week, said he is ready to use nuclear weapons to defend territory in an apparent threat to Ukraine to halt its efforts to retake the regions.

Putin's escalation of rhetoric and the politically risky decision to call up up to 300,000 army reservists comes after the Russians were hastily forced to withdraw from large swaths of northeastern Ukraine earlier this month. A fierce Ukrainian counter-offensive continues in the east and south of the country.

Source: AP


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