Ukraine puts pressure on pro-Russia residents helping with referenda

A military vehicle drives along a street that has a billboard reading: “With Russia forever, September 27,” prior to a referendum in Luhansk, Luhansk People’s Republic controlled by Russia-backed separatists, in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

Ukrainian security authorities announced Friday that they have identified about 4,000 people involved in staging referenda to prosecute them for violating territorial integrity among other crimes. Russia is pushing for the referenda to be held in its bid to annex regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Kyiv’s move is likely an attempt to obstruct the polls by putting pressure on pro-Russia residents who are cooperating with Russian forces.

According to the authorities, Russian military and security forces under the direct control of Russian President Vladimir Putin are providing security during the polls while pro-Russian people working as election commission staff are forcing voters to cast ballots.

The governor of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine said via social media that some ballots were cast by people taken captive by Russian forces and even the deceased, calling the referendum there a fraud.

Also on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine this month had recaptured from Russian forces an area about 9,000 square kilometers in total, about the size of Kagoshima Prefecture.

In Izium in the Kharkiv region, in eastern Ukraine 447 bodies had been found in a mass grave, according to Ukrainian police. They were mostly civilians and included five children, the police said.