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Ukrainians in occupied territory were rounded up at gunpoint to vote in Putin's election, reports say

Mia Jankowicz   

Ukrainians in occupied territory were rounded up at gunpoint to vote in Putin's election, reports say
  • Russia's presidential elections included forced voting in occupied regions of Ukraine, reports say.
  • Armed guards coerced locals, both on their doorsteps and at polling stations, according to reports.

Armed guards took part in door-to-door voting operations in occupied regions of Ukraine as part of Russia's recent presidential elections, according to multiple reports.

Russians went to the polls over the weekend in an election widely seen as a sham and foregone conclusion, with incumbent President Vladimir Putin winning 87% of the vote.

Part of that vote was secured in Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporozhzhia, occupied regions of Ukraine that were at least partially captured since Russia's full-scale invasion began in 2022 — as well as Crimea, occupied since 2014.

In the Kherson village of Novomykolaivka, local official Yevheniia Hliebova told The Washington Post that election officials would walk around "in a brigade accompanied by an armed soldier."

"He was carrying a weapon, so it was a threat, not verbal, but in fact it was a threat of violence," she said, describing it as an "election at gunpoint."

Those who refused were threatened, she said.

Ukraine's National Resistance Center said in a recent report that "voting at gunpoint is another Russian crime against civilians."

The group, citing unnamed sources, said that thousands of Russian National Guardsmen, police, as well as privately contracted security personnel, were sent to protect election sites and "mobile electoral commissions."

A former resident of the Kherson region told the Post that her niece, who is still there, was approached by a woman conducting a door-to-door operation accompanied by two Russian soldiers.

The "preliminary voting," as it was called, was being carried out ostensibly because of Ukrainian shelling in the area, the outlet reported.

Sources in occupied areas, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, told the Kyiv Independent that Russian troops had been rounding up Ukrainians and forcing them to vote.

One former resident of Mariupol, in Donetsk, told Al Jazeera that people who remain there "must submit to the regime and pretend they support everything that's going on because they're afraid for their lives."

There was no secrecy to the vote, she added.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Representative to the United Nations, called the process in occupied Ukraine a "sham election" that shows "manifest disregard for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Ivan Fedorov, the head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration, likened the election mobilization efforts to an episode in a TV drama — essentially a fiction.

But at the same time, Russian forces are terrorizing people in the occupied territories into believing that Russia's presence there is forever, he wrote on Telegram.

Elections have been a key part of Russia's efforts to legitimize its occupation of Ukraine, including sham referendums in 2022 meant to formalize its annexation of four regions.

During those polls, armed soldiers were also reported going door-to-door to collect votes.

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