Zelenskyy called the referendum a “farce” as the occupied territories voted to join Russia

A man walks past a graffiti depicting children with Russian flags in Luhansk, Luhansk People's Republic controlled by Russian-backed separatists, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, September 27, 2022. Voting on future referendums on part of Russia began in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on Friday. (AP photo)

A man walks past graffiti showing children with Russian flags in Luhansk (Image: AP)

Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisted Ukraine will continue to defend its occupied population after the Kremlin announced that four regions had voted to join Russia.

In his nightly video address, the Ukrainian President said the so-called referendums were a “farce”.

Moscow claimed on Tuesday that residents of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions all voted overwhelmingly in favor of incorporation into Russia.

Kremlin-appointed election officials said that 93% of ballots cast in Zaporizhia supported accession, as did 87% in Kherson region, 98% in Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.

The votes are widely seen as a pretext for announcements that Russia is annexing the territories, just as it annexed Crimea in 2014.

President Zelenskyy said: “This farce in the occupied territories cannot even be called an imitation of a referendum.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 27: Members of the United Nations Security Council listen as President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a meeting at the United Nations Headquarters to discuss the conflict in Ukraine on September 27, 2022 in New York City to discuss. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield today introduced a joint resolution with Albania condemning Russia over referendums being held in four regions of Ukraine. Attending the meeting via video, President Zelensky reiterated his call for changes to the Security Council made during last week's General Assembly and called for Russia's expulsion from the Council. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Members of the United Nations Security Council listen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a meeting (Image: Getty)

The destined outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in the seven-month war.

Russia has pledged “full protection” to the regions of Ukraine it wants to annex.

Asked if that would include nuclear weapons, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “all the laws, doctrines and concepts of Russia” would apply.

The country’s nuclear doctrine allows the weapons to be used when it faces an “existential threat.” It is feared that Moscow would consider any attempt by Ukraine to regain control of the territories as such.

In the referendums, residents were asked if they wanted the territories to be incorporated into Russia, and the Kremlin presented them as free and fair, reflecting people’s desire for self-determination.

Tens of thousands of residents had already fled the regions because of the war, and pictures shared by those who remained showed armed Russian troops going door-to-door to urge Ukrainians to vote.

People walk past a billboard depicting a soldier and a Russian flag that reads'We believe in our army and our victory' in Luhansk, Luhansk People's Republic controlled by Russian-backed separatists, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, September 27, 2022. Voting started Friday in four Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia. (AP photo)

People walk past a billboard depicting a soldier and a Russian flag in Luhansk, which reads ‘We believe in our army and our victory’ (Image: AP)

DONETSK, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 27: People cast their vote in controversial referenda on September 27, 2022 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Voting runs Friday through Tuesday in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, with people being asked to vote on whether they want those regions to become part of Russia. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

People cast their ballots in contentious referendums in Donetsk (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko, who left the port city after the Russians took it after months of siege, said only about 20% of the estimated 100,000 remaining residents voted in Donetsk’s referendum.

The city’s pre-war population was 541,000.

“A man with an assault rifle comes to your house and asks you to vote. So what can people do?” Boychenko asked during a press conference, explaining how people were forced to vote.

Western allies sided firmly with Ukraine, dismissing the referendum votes as a meaningless sham.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the elections were a “desperate move” by Putin.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, on a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday, said France was determined “to support Ukraine and its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” describing the votes as “sham referendums.”

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A satellite image shows trucks and cars waiting in a traffic jam near Russia’s border with Georgia (Image: AFP via Getty)

Elsewhere, Putin encountered difficulties when he ordered the mass conscription of Russians into active military service.

The order has prompted an exodus of nearly 200,000 men from Russia, fueled anti-war protests and sparked violence.

On Monday, a gunman opened fire at a recruiting office in a Siberian town, seriously injuring the local chief military recruiting officer.

Isolated arson attacks on other recruiting offices had previously been reported.

One destination for fleeing Russian men is Kazakhstan, which reported on Tuesday that about 98,000 Russians had entered Kazakhstan in the past week.

The European Union Border and Coast Guard says 66,000 Russian citizens entered the 27-nation bloc from September 19-25, a 30% increase from the previous week.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/09/27/zelensky-calls-referendum-farce-as-occupied-areas-vote-to-join-russia-17463489/ Zelenskyy called the referendum a "farce" as the occupied territories voted to join Russia

Justin Scacco

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