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“Say yes or no at gunpoint.” Coercion in the referendum in occupied Ukraine

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In parts of Ukraine controlled or occupied by Moscow, hastily organized votes began on Friday in what pro-Russian authorities describe as referendums on joining Russia. Kyiv and the West view the event as a fraud. According to the adviser to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Mykhailo Podoljak, this is not a legal referendum, but only a propaganda show for the mobilization. According to Russian media footage, pro-Russian administration officials are going door to door with portable ballot boxes to urge people to vote, AFP reported. At the same time, Russian television showed footage of people casting their votes into mobile ballot boxes in various halls or courtyards. Thousands of people gathered in Moscow to express their support for the referendums, social media videos show.

An adviser to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andryushchenko, accused pro-Russian forces of using coercive tactics, according to CNN. “The main means of coercion when voting is door-to-door agitation,” Andryushchenko wrote in a telegram on the social network. “The commission is made up of two people with a ballot box and ballot papers and two armed men,” he said. “They knock on the doors of apartments/houses, forcing neighbors to bring people to the commission. Coercion, coercion and more coercion. In fact, they offer to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ directly on the barrel of a gun”, explains the mayor’s adviser, who specifies that there are polling stations in shops or cafes, but that they are empty.

“Today it would be better if the people of Kherson did not open the doors,” said Yury Sobolevskyi, Ukrainian deputy chairman of the Kherson Regional Council, in a telegram on the network. People are being forced to fill out ‘pieces of paper’ with no privacy in their kitchens and backyards as towns are locked down to prevent them from leaving and avoiding voting, regional administration chief says Ukrainian from Lugansk, Serhii Hajday, Reuters reported. In the town of Starobilsk, pro-Russian authorities banned residents from leaving the town until Tuesday and sent armed groups to search homes and force people to take part in the referendum, Hajdaj said.

Voting is taking place in the self-declared pro-Russian Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, in which Russian occupying forces have “incorporated” parts of other domains they still hold. Residents of the mentioned regions of Ukraine who are currently in Russia can also come to vote, but according to Russian internet sources, there is confusion as to where they should do so. The plebiscite is expected to last five days. During the first four days, members of election commissions will visit the homes of local residents, the independent server Meduza and the BBC’s Russian-language website reported. According to them, polling stations will also be open on the last day. The occupation authorities explain this decision out of concern for the safety of residents, many of whom will have to vote in the frontline settlements.

In the DNR and NRL, the ballot papers, according to the media, have only one question – whether to join the Russian Federation, which can be answered with yes or no. In the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, answers to three questions are requested – whether the voter is in favor of secession from Ukraine, whether he is in favor of the creation of an independent state and whether he is in favor of joining the Russian Federation.

The official result should support joining Russia

The Russian news agency TASS reported that fewer than a thousand observers are taking part in the referendum in the DNR. She then announced that there were also about 130 foreign observers in the DNR, from Venezuela, Italy, Romania, Togo or South Africa. “Their number is constantly growing,” the agency said, citing the Central Election Commission. At the same time, she wrote that observers were also in other occupied areas. In the case of LNR, she cites a man named Jaromír Vašek, who she claims is an observer from the Czech Republic. He claimed, according to TASS, that he had not noticed any voting violations in Luhansk and that “everyone is ready to vote for joining Russia”.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which regularly monitors various elections, said the results of the current vote in Ukraine will not be legally valid because the action is contrary to Ukrainian laws and international law, taking place in areas where there is no security, and independent observers do not participate.

Kyiv and its Western allies had previously called the referendums a fraud. Their officials said they would not acknowledge the results; they see the vote as just a step by Moscow towards the illegal annexation of another Ukrainian territory. Russia says the referendums are an opportunity for people in the region to have their say. Thousands of people gathered in the streets of Moscow to support the holding of the referendum. According to analysts from the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, they see the large majority populates the territories mentioned as independent of Russia and on the contrary belonging to Ukraine. They used data from dozens of past polls and elections to estimate.

Official results are generally expected to support Russian membership. According to CNN, Hajdaj said Russia will calculate a result that will be favorable to him. “People’s opinion is meaningless,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Unian agency wrote that pro-Russian authorities had brought a crowd from the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow had already annexed in 2014, to occupied Melitopol in the Zaporozhye region. According to Unian, these people are supposed to participate in the filming of propaganda clips about the alleged support of the population for the referendum on joining Russia. At the same time, the agency referred to the exiled mayor of the city, Ivan Fedorov. According to him, moreover, according to the first reports, the inhabitants of Melitopol do not open the doors to officials who visit the apartments and do not answer their calls. “We can confirm that this referendum is a fraud,” Fedorov said. The claims of the various parties to the conflict could not be independently verified.

Source: Echo24

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