Men flee occupied territories for fear of draft as sham referendum results pour in

Voting in the Donetsk Region, Ukraine on September 23, 2022. Photo: Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

To no one’s surprise, the results of the “referenda” that Russia occupied in the territories of Ukraine it occupies show that the local population is overwhelmingly in favour of being incorporated into Russia. The legal status of these votes is obvious to the international community. But the legality of anything Putin’s regime does is neither here nor there to the people forced to live under its boot. They must comply or suffer. Or comply and suffer.

As Russia is rocked by anti-mobilisation riots, it has also dawned on the people living in the occupied territories, that as soon as Russia considers them its own citizens, they will become subject to mobilisation as well. Hundreds decided to take the risk of slipping across the frontline to the Ukrainian-controlled side to avoid being press-ganged into the Russian military to fight against their compatriots. More than 400 people have streamed into a refugee centre in the regional capital of Zaporizhzhia by Tuesday afternoon.

One of them is Dmytro Rossuzhday. Although he exceeds the daft age, he was certain that would be of little consequence to the Russians. After all, there are already reports of men that are old, disabled, and lack military experience being mobilised in Russia.

“I was 100 percent positive I would be mobilised,” said the 48-year-old farmer from Zeleny Pot, choking back tears of relief at a refugee reception centre in a home improvement store parking lot outside the city of Zaporizhzhia. He and his elderly mother, as well as 16 other people, spent an uncertain night at the Russian checkpoint before they were allowed to pass.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Russians have also allowed some men aged 18-35, who are eligible for the draft, to pass the checkpoints as well. Those lucky ones were themselves surprised.

“The first time we tried they would not allow men 18-35 to leave. ‘You will be fighting for Putin,’” Filip, a 23-year-old student from Berdyansk, quoted a checkpoint guard. Desperate, he and his girlfriend tried again. “This is the second time we tried leaving. The conditions for life became very complicated. It was too scary to stay.”

The ‘results’

Russian-installed collaborators reported huge majorities on Tuesday in favour of becoming part of Russia after five days of voting in so-called referenda.

As of the writing of this article (10 pm CEST, 8pm GMT), Luhansk “People’s Republic” authorities said 98.5 percent of people there had voted to join Russia, based on 69 percent of ballots counted. Russia's TASS news agency said 93.95 percent in the Donetsk “People's Republic” (large swathes of which are still under Ukrainian control) had voted in favour, with nearly 32 percent of the ballots counted.

In part of the Zaporizhzhia Region under occupation (the capital is still controlled by the legitimate government in Kyiv), the figure is 93.1 percent with the count now completed. In Kherson, the only region whose capital Russians managed to conquer since February 24, the “yes” vote was running at more than 87 percent, according to the head of the voting committee.

Within these, Russian-installed officials took transparent ballot boxes from house to house under the escort of armed individuals.

People from the four regions who were displaced or deported into Russian territory were also coerced to vote for Russia. State news agency RIA said early counts showed numbers in excess of 96 percent in favour of the annexation.

The voting patterns mirrored the illegal referendum in Crimea after Russia seized the region from Ukraine in 2014. The official result was 97 percent of the vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

It is expected that by the end of the month Russia will officially announce the annexation of the territories under the control of the occupation forces and their proxies.