Voting on referendums on becoming part of Russia has begun in the Moscow regions of Ukraine, Russian-backed officials there have announced.
The referendums, organized by the Kremlin and widely condemned by Ukraine and the West as fakes with no legal force, are seen as a step towards annexation of the territories by Russia.
Voting will take place in Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, which are partly controlled by Russia.
In Kherson, which is almost entirely controlled by Moscow, voting was also expected to begin on Friday morning.
A vote asking residents whether they want their regions to be part of Russia is sure to go Moscow’s way.
This would give Russia a pretext to claim that attempts by Ukrainian forces to regain control are attacks against Russia itself, dramatically escalating the seven-month conflict.
The referendum follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for a partial mobilization that could add about 300,000 Russian troops to the battle.
Voting will last five days until Tuesday.
According to Russian officials in the occupied regions, during the first four days, election officials will bring ballots to people’s homes and set up temporary polling stations near residential areas.
Tuesday is the only day when voters are invited to the regular polling stations.
Polls were also opened in Russia, where refugees from the occupied regions can cast their votes.
Deniss Pushilin, the separatist leader of the Moscow-backed Donetsk Oblast authorities, called Friday’s referendum a historic milestone.
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