Kiev: Referendums to join Russia began in four Ukrainian regions on Friday, Russian-backed officials said. Voting will continue for five days until Tuesday. Voting in the referendum for refugees from occupied territories has also started in Russia. The polls are being held in the partially Russian-controlled regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kurson and Zaporozhye, which have been strongly opposed by Ukraine and the West. There are reports that the vote will be in favor of Russia. The Kremlin hopes the regions will quickly join Russia as Ukraine and its Western allies ignore the referendum.
Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to mobilize 300,000 reservists in Ukraine, tearful scenes of families saying goodbye to men leaving military bases are flooding Russian social media sites.
Denis Pushilin, the separatist leader of the Donetsk region, called the referendum a ‘historic milestone’. Addressing the occupied territories online on Friday, the speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, made it clear, ‘if you decide to become part of the Russian Federation, we will support you.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said that 436 bodies of Ukrainians were exhumed from mass graves in the eastern town of Izium in the Kharkiv region. The Associated Press reported that 30 of them showed signs of brutal torture. Kharkiv Region Governor Ole Tsinihubov and Police Chief Volodymyr Tymoshko told reporters that three more graves had been found in the area retaken by Ukrainian forces this month.