Russian annexation 'referendums' were held on Friday in four regions of Ukraine wholly or partly controlled by Moscow, polls condemned as 'fictitious' by G7 leaders, who have promised to “never” recognize them.
At the same time, the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Russian reservists continued in Russia, the Kremlin seeking a parade against the advances of the Ukrainian army which, with the strength of Western arms deliveries, claimed new territorial gains on Friday.
In a joint statement, the G7 countries (Germany, Canada, United States, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) called on “all countries to unequivocally reject these fictitious referendums”, “sham which “have neither legal effect nor legitimacy”.
On the side of the UN, a commission of inquiry has recognized that “war crimes have been committed in Ukraine”, referring in particular to Russian bombardments on civilian areas, executions, acts of torture, ill-treatment as well as sexual violence.
At the same time, Ukraine announced that it had exhumed 447 bodies from a mass burial site in Izium, a town recaptured from the Russians in the northeast, including 30 with “signs of torture” such as tied hands, broken limbs or “amputated genitalia”.
International criticism hasn't stopped Moscow from pushing ahead with plans for 'referendums' in Ukraine.
Voting, which began at 0500 GMT, will end on September 27 in the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk (east), and in areas under Russian occupation in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia (south).
Kyiv castigates Iran
Des Hundreds of polling stations must be opened in the four territories, and others in Russia to allow the displaced to vote.
“We hope that after the referendum, they will stop bombing us, that we will have peace and order,” Vladimir Choutov, from the Lugansk region and who came to vote at the Donetsk representation, told AFP. in Moscow.
In Moscow, St. referendums are a step towards this peace,” said Viktor Suvorov, 40, present at the Moscow rally, a stone's throw from Red Square.
In Ukraine, in Chevchenkové, the Ukrainian leader Andriï Kanachevitch protested to AFP against “illegal” elections. “To be honest, it's rubbish,” he says.
Without going so far as to denounce the elections, China, Moscow's closest partner, went there all the same of his criticism, calling for respect for “the territorial integrity of all countries”.
Iran, for its part, found itself in the crosshairs of the Ukrainian authorities, who blame it for its arms deliveries to Moscow and in particular drones, which killed one person in a Russian attack on the port of Odessa on Friday.< /p>
Lambasting “hostile” behavior, Kyiv has decided to withdraw the accreditation of the Iranian ambassador to Ukraine and to “significantly reduce” the staff of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv.
On the ground, Ukraine claimed Friday the capture of Yatskivka in the Donetsk region (east). It also claims to have advanced south of Bakhmout, a locality in the east that the Russian army has been trying to take for months without success.
On the separatist side, the head of Donetsk Denis Pushilin evoked a situation “ extremely difficult” north of his city.
In the Luhansk region, another separatist official, Andrei Marochko, reported Ukrainian bombardments, noting that Kyiv forces “want to do everything to derail the referendum”.
The hasty announcement of these elections was accompanied by that, on Wednesday, by Mr. Putin to decree the immediate mobilization of at least 300,000 reservists. He also threatened to use the entire Russian arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons.
Although television broadcast almost no images of the mobilization, several videos on social networks showed men with closed faces boarding buses after hugging loved ones, some in tears.
Reached by AFP, Konstantin, 29, said he received his summons at his parents' home. “I'm still in shock,” he said. “I'm not going to hide but I'm not jumping for joy either.”
Others were given summonses after being arrested during protests against the mobilization on Wednesday.
“I expected the usual (procedures): the arrest, the police station, the court. But to be told: + Tomorrow you are going to war +, (…) that was a surprise, “said AFP Mikhaïl Souetine, 29, who refused to sign the document.
The announcement of the mobilization also prompted many Russians to leave the country, causing an influx at the borders, without it being possible to quantify the extent of the phenomenon.
Finland has decided to take measures to “significantly” limit the entry of Russian citizens on its soil, while the Baltic countries and Poland have already been drastically curbing entry for weeks.