Russia begins annexation vote, illegal under international law, in occupied Ukraine

by | Sep 23, 2022 | Top Stories

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People from Russian-occupied places like Melitopol and Kherson arrive in a convoy of cars to the parking lot of a home goods store set up as a makeshift welcome center in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Claire Harbage/NPR

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Claire Harbage/NPR

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine – A long line of cars pulls into the parking lot of a home goods store set up as a makeshift welcome center. People pile out of the cars, looking exhausted but relieved, some are crying, many are smiling. Officials stop at each car, checking documents. This convoy is coming from the south, from places like Melitopol and Kherson, areas that have been occupied by Russia for months now. “We were waiting, hoping that the Ukrainian army would come, and the battle for our city would begin,” said 55-year-old Viktoria Yermoleny, who left Melitopol with her husband and their dog. “But then we heard about the referendum, and we just couldn’t risk it anymore.”

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Viktoria and Anatoli Yermoleny left Melitopol with their dog on Thursday after hearing about the referendums.

Claire Harbage/NPR

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Controversial Russian referendums have begun in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — some of which are only partially controlled by Russia. The voting is illegal under both Ukrainian and international law and is largely seen as a sham, as it’s almost certain to result in Moscow’s favor. But still, it could pave the way for the Kremlin to annex the areas, bringing them in to join the Russian Federation.

It could also begin a dramatic escalation in the seven-month war, as Russia could use the referendums to illegitimately claim that any attempt by Ukrainian forces to retake land is an attack on Russia itself. The voting is set to run for five days, until Sept. 27. “It’s all staged, and it’s all fake,” Yermoleny said of the voting, as her husband nodded beside her. She said that their neighbors who stayed behind had plans to hide if Russian soldiers came to their home to get them to vote. “But that’s not going to help anyway,” she said. “The Russians are just going to write the numbers that they need and be done with it.”

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