Armed soldiers escort Ukraine voters in Russia's sham referendums as desperate Putin goes for land grab

24 September 2022, 11:27

Russian troops are heavily involved in the voting process
Russian troops are heavily involved in the voting process. Picture: Alamy/Twitter

By Will Taylor

Sham referendums in occupied regions of Ukraine have been condemned as reports emerged of soldiers forcing voters to cast their ballot on their home's annexation by Russia.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

In a desperate move to seize the initiative in his failing invasion, Putin has allowed occupation administrations to hold "votes" across four parts of Ukraine to try and legitimise his land grab.

Footage and reports of soldiers going door-to-door to get Ukrainians to vote has emerged.

One resident in Severodonetsk, in the east of the country, told The Telegraph: "We are forced to go under the pretext of being shot. If we didn't go, they said that they would shoot or massacre the whole family.

"We're scared. At the referendum, turnout is required or arrest or worse. Many are being forced with a threat to life."

In Melitopol, in the south east of the country, a resident told the BBC two "collaborators" arrived with a pair of Russian soldiers at her parents’ flat and gave them a ballot.

"My dad put 'no' [to joining Russia]," the anonymous woman said.

"My mum stood nearby, and asked what would happen for putting 'no'. They said, 'nothing'. Mum is now worried that the Russians will persecute them."

Russia's state media agency Tass said the gunmen going door-to-door were there for "security".

"In-person voting will take place exclusively on 27 September," it reported.

"On the other days, voting will be organised in communities and in a door-to-door manner."

Read more: Russian anti-war protesters 'drafted into army' as videos emerge of families ripped apart by Putin's mobilisation

CCTV reported to have come from flats in Energodar showed people in civilian clothing and armbands clutching forms as they knock on doors while two armed soldiers look on.

The back of one of the soldier's body armour indicates he is part of the Russian National Guard, in a unit called Omon.

World leaders and Kyiv have been appalled by the attempted annexations in the four regions, dismissing them as illegitimate.

Voters cast their ballot in Donetsk
Voters cast their ballot in Donetsk. Picture: Alamy

In Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the east – two places that have been partly ruled by separatist, pro-Russian regimes who, with support from the Kremlin, have waged a civil war against Kyiv for almost 10 years - are being asked in Russian language ballots to join Moscow.

They have already declared independence but neither are totally under control of the regimes there.

The Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south, neither of which are fully occupied, are being asked to join in Ukrainian and Russian language ballots.

In the former, Russian guards were seen standing with a ballot box in the middle of Kherson city to collect votes.

The "voting" began on Friday and will end across the regions on September 27.

Read more: Russians flee on one-way tickets to avoid being hauled to frontlines of Putin’s ‘meatgrinder’

Liz Truss has dismissed them as a sham which shows Putin is losing his war, while the US said it would never recognise annexations.

They are an echo of Russia's 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Western officials say the outcome of the votes has already been decided.

The move is a desperate attempt by Putin to respond to Ukraine's lighting counter attack in the east, which has seen it recapture swathes of territory.

He has mobilised some 300,000 Russians, a risky move that puts his autocratic rule in a dangerous position. Dozens of cities saw protests against a call up despite tough laws against criticising the war.

And routes to the border have flooded with young men trying to flee a call up to the frontlines, where Russia has lost thousands of troops.