STORY: Connection to Russia – or not? The controversial referendums on the accession of Ukrainian territories to the Russian Federation have begun. Polling stations opened on Friday in the Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as in Cherson and in Zaporizhia province. The pro-Russian separatist leader from Donetsk, Denis Puschilin, spoke of a historic milestone that had been awaited for eight years. “First we became independent, then we achieved recognition of our republic and here is our third step – unification with Russia. We are coming home.” Ukraine and the West, which, unlike Russia, do not recognize the self-declared People’s Republics, have criticized the vote as a “sham referendum”. It is unclear exactly how the ballot, which is scheduled to last several days, is to take place because the areas are not completely occupied by Russian troops. Many Ukrainians who fled from the Russian-occupied territories live in the city of Zaporizhia. Harsh criticism was heard there on Friday. “I don’t support the referendum,” says this woman from Melitopol, “because how can you illegally snatch part of Ukraine? They come into other people’s homes and do whatever they want.” “I’m categorically against the referendum. I think that the Kherson region is part of Ukrainian territory. And secondly, we don’t even know what’s going on there at the moment, since we’ve become refugees since May.” The Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Gajdaj, reported on the pressure exerted by the Russian authorities on the people in the occupied territories. Given these circumstances, it was expected that all four regions would vote to join Russia.
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