Election workers were flanked by armed Russian troops wearing balaclavas. While Russian officials or their allies stood watch, Ukrainians were made to vote. Some locals went so far as to seek refuge in their houses out of fear that casting a vote against Russia’s annexation might result in their kidnapping or worse. Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine saw staged voting in referendums begin on Friday, and Ukrainians there voiced a mixture of rage, defiance, and dread that their country was being stolen by force in what they dubbed a fake vote.
It was clear that President Vladimir Putin wanted to use the hurriedly scheduled elections as a legal excuse to annex their nation. A Ukrainian woman living in a Russian-controlled city in southeastern Ukraine says men aged 18 to 35 are being prevented from leaving the city. She fears Russian annexation will force young men to join the Russian military and fight against fellow Ukrainians. ‘And Ukrainians will have to fight against Ukrainians,’ she said, stopping as she broke into tears.
The 44-year-old Andriy Andriy claims that his friends and family in Kherson have informed him that they are unable to leave the city due to the referendum. A retiree in Melitopol claims to have witnessed pro-referendum workers entering her apartment complex. She asserts that ‘if Ukraine tries to free my city, it would be seen as an attack on Russia’. Around Melitopol, Russians had erected referendum information booths and erected pro-Russian flags. Russian flags were flying everywhere in the city, and nationalistic Russian music was playing.