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

Four regions of Ukraine occupied by pro-Moscow forces are preparing to hold referendums on formal membership with Russia, in a move widely seen as a fatality in favor of annexation.

The referendums, which run counter to international law that upholds Ukraine’s sovereignty, could pave the way for Moscow to label the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive an attack on Russia itself.

Voting is expected to take place over five days, from Friday to Tuesday.

Ballot questions vary slightly by region.

  • In the Donetsk People’s Republic, the question, presented only in Russian, will be: “Are you in favor of the DPR joining the Russian Federation on the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation?” self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic uses the same wording.
  • In Khersonthe question will be: “Are you in favor of the secession of the Kherson region from the Ukrainian state, 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 the occupied parts of Zaporizhiathe question is in Russian and Ukrainian and reads: “Do you vote FOR the secession of Zaporizhzhia Oblast from Ukraine, the formation of Zaporizhzhia Oblast as an independent state and its joining the Russian Federation as a subentity of the Russian Federation?”

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

Before the votes, the pro-Russian authorities try to enthuse the voters. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti showed a poster distributed in Luhansk, which read “Russia is the future”.

“We are united by a 1,000-year history,” he says. “For centuries we have been part of the same great country. The breakup of the state was a huge political disaster. … It is time to restore historical justice.”

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

In a statement, the election monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, condemned the “illegal referendums”.

“Any so-called ‘referendum’ planned by or with the support of forces operating illegally de facto control in the occupied territories of Ukraine would be contrary to international standards and obligations of international humanitarian law, and their result will therefore have no legal force,” said the OSCE, which monitors the elections in 57 member states.

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

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