Russia’s war in Ukraine

Head of the Central Election Commission of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Vladimir Vysotsky visits a polling station ahead of the planned referendum on the merger of the Donetsk People’s Republic with Russia, in Donetsk, Ukraine, on September 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Four areas of Ukraine held by pro-Moscow forces are preparing to hold referendums on whether to formally join Russia, in a move widely seen as a foregone conclusion in support of annexation.

The referendums, which violate international law that preserves Ukraine’s sovereignty, could pave the way for Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive as an attack on Russia itself.

The poll will take place over five days from Friday to Tuesday.

The questions on the ballot vary slightly depending on the region.

  • In the Donetsk People’s Republic, The question, presented only in Russian, will be: “Are you in favor of joining the DPR to the Russian Federation on the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation?” The self declared Luhansk People’s Republic uses the same phrasing.
  • In KhersonThe question will be: “Are you in favor of the secession of the Kherson region from the state of Ukraine, the formation of an independent state by the Kherson region and its joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?”
  • And in occupied parts of Zaporizhzhyathe question is in both Russian and Ukrainian, and it reads: “Do you vote FOR the secession of Zaporizhzhia Oblast from Ukraine, the formation of Zaporizhzhia Oblast as an independent state and its accession to the Russian Federation as a sub-entity of ” e Russian Federation?”

In both Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions, local authorities urged people to vote at home, saying ballot boxes could be brought to them.

Ahead of the votes, pro-Russian authorities are trying to excite voters. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti showed a poster being distributed in Luhansk that read “Russia is the future.”

“We are united by a 1000-year history,” it says. “For centuries we were part of the same great country. The breakup of the state was a great political disaster. … It is time to restore historical justice.”

A military vehicle drives along a street with a billboard reading "With Russia forever, September 27" ahead of a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on 22 September.
A military vehicle drives along a street with a billboard reading “With Russia forever, September 27” ahead of a referendum in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on September 22. (AP)

In a statement, the election monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, condemned the “illegal referendum.”

“Any so-called ‘referendum’ planned by or with the support of the forces that illegally exercise de facto control in the occupied territories of Ukraine would be in violation of international norms and obligations under international humanitarian law, and its outcome will therefore have no legal force,” said the OSCE, which monitors elections in 57 member states.

Ukraine has dismissed the referendums in the occupied regions as a “sham” arising from the “fear of defeat”, while the country’s Western supporters have made it clear they will never accept Russia’s claim to annexed Ukrainian territory recognize