Residents forced to vote in pro-Russia referendum in southern Ukraine

An elderly couple vote in their flat during a referendum in Dokuchaievsk, Donetsk People’s Republic controlled by Russia-backed separatists, eastern Ukraine, on Friday.

KYIV — Residents in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson are being forced to vote by pro-Russian soldiers in a referendum aimed at cementing Moscow’s unilateral decision to annex the region, a local resident said in an online interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Pro-Russian soldiers armed with guns visited each house and “in effect threatened and forced people to vote,” the 28-year-old man living in the city said in an interview conducted via social media.

Ukraine, the United States and many European countries have denounced the polls as “sham referenda.” However, it seems that Russia is aiming to increase the number of voters as much as possible to claim legitimacy of the voting.

In central Kherson since Friday, election commission officials accompanied by several pro-Russian soldiers have been seen entering voters’ homes to urge them to cast ballots, according to the man.

Some Kherson residents were originally pro-Russian, but their support for Moscow has been shaken by rampant looting by Russian soldiers.

In addition, many residents are hesitant to vote in case Ukrainian forces retake the city.

“Many people here are saying they will abstain from voting,” the man said. However, people can be detained for expressing anti-Russian words or taking actions deemed so. Under such circumstances, refusing to vote is extremely difficult.

Kherson had a population of about 300,000 before the invasion, but it is now estimated to be half that.

There was a significant shortage of ballots because of the abrupt decision to hold the referendum, the man said, quoting an acquaintance who works for the election commission.

“It’s obvious that they will announce the result of a majority in favor of the referendum without conducting a proper tally,” the man said. “That’s how Russia does things.”

The referenda are scheduled to take place through Tuesday in parts of four regions: Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.