In Russian presidential elections, voting is forced at gunpoint in occupied Ukraine

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Ukrainians in territories occupied by the Russian military are forced to vote in the Russian presidential election under the surveillance of masked, heavily armed soldiers who accompany election officials as they go from house to house, knocking on doors as they try to force them to participate.

Holding elections in occupied Ukraine is a violation of international law and Russia was condemned in a statement to the United Nations on Friday by Ukraine and 55 other nations for its “manifest disregard for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Yevheniia Hliebova, head of the military administration of the village of Novomykolaivka in the Kherson region, which left the occupied territory, described it as an “election at gunpoint.” That is, violence.”

Election officials walked through Novomykolaivka, Hliebova said, “in a brigade accompanied by an armed soldier. He was carrying a gun, so it was a threat, not verbal, but it was in fact a threat of violence.” Those who refused to vote were threatened with retaliation, she said.

The intimidation of Ukrainians under Russian military control into voting in the presidential election mirrors the process in the fall of 2022, when residents were similarly forced at gunpoint to vote in illegal referendums on Russian annexation. Then, in some cases, Russia even claimed to annex territories in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia that its military had not yet occupied. In other cases, Ukraine subsequently expelled the occupiers, but Moscow has not renounced its claims, which followed Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Vladimir Putin, who has ruled as Russia’s supreme political leader since December 31, 1999, repeatedly finding ways to defy term limits to remain in power, is guaranteed victory in the election, giving him another term in office. six years. Elections, even for legitimate voters in Russia, do not offer any genuine democratic options, as the Kremlin blocks voting for genuine opposition candidates, controls media coverage and, critics allege, falsifies the results.

Constitutional changes devised by Putin in 2020 allow him to potentially rule until 2036, but it is generally understood that he will remain in office for as long as he wants.

In Belgorod, the Russian city most affected by the war, Putin still stands strong

The forced vote is part of a broader process of Russification in the occupied regions, which includes forced changes in school curricula, torture, imprisonment and expulsion of pro-Kiev figures, the installation of puppet administrations of the Kremlin and the demand that Ukrainians obtain Russian passports. to function in daily life.

In Mariupol, the occupied city on the Sea of ​​Azov, the vote took place on Saturday two years after the March 16, 2022, Russian bombing of the city’s drama theater, which killed hundreds of people sheltering there, despite a huge sign on the ground indicating that civilians Inside were children, including children.

Russian state media, however, showed residents happy at a Mariupol polling station, featuring an exhibition of children’s drawings with slogans such as “I am a future voter,” part of Russia’s continued use of children for propaganda and state indoctrination, which has been a central feature of the war in the occupied zones and in Russia.

A Mariupol resident interviewed by phone by The Washington Post said: “People don’t care about the elections because everyone understands perfectly well that they are elections without a choice.” The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the risk of retaliation by Russian authorities.

“There is no rule of law, no courts, nothing. “Everything is broken,” the person said. “In this context, presidential elections are kind of shit.”

The resident said people were forced to apply for Russian ID cards to receive social payments since early in the occupation, but new rules now require them to have Russian documents for everything from house titles to driver’s licenses. Many people are worried, amid rumors that anyone with Ukrainian documents could be evicted.

In a post on Telegram, Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, HUR, accused Russian forces of using “intimidation, bribery and pressure” to force Ukrainians to vote.

Some Ukrainians who were being caught by election teams were asked to fill out ballots in front of pro-Kremlin election workers and soldiers, violating the principle of secret voting, a fundamental principle of democracy.

A woman in occupied Energodar, Zaporizhzhia region, was in her daughter’s apartment when she heard a knock on the door.

“There were two representatives of the polling station and two apparent soldiers with balaclavas and rifles carrying ballot boxes,” said the woman’s daughter, a former city council official who fled the area. The woman and her daughter spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the safety of family members living under occupation.

“My mother had no intention of voting, but she was still afraid to say it out loud,” the daughter said. Instead, the mother said that she did not live in the apartment and that she would vote later.

Other Energodar residents told election officials and soldiers that they had already voted, “to which they responded, ‘No problem, you can vote again,’” the daughter said. The men who could not produce Russian passports were questioned and their apartments searched, she said.

Natalia Petrenko, head of the military administration in Shulhyne, an occupied village in the Luhansk region, said election officials and soldiers were targeting vulnerable elderly retirees in house-to-house visits. Petrenko has left the occupied zone but is in contact with friends and family who still live in the village.

Days before the elections they visited the retirees with gifts, Petrenko said, “and at the same time they told them that the commission will come to their house and they must put a mark on Putin.”

“A soldier with a balaclava and an automatic pistol entered. [weapon],” she said. “And now I calmly imagine: an old woman is sitting remembering the Second World War and a soldier with a gun enters her house again.”

‘What are you going to write? [on the ballot] What will she do? There is fear of the gun, of the weapon,” Petrenko added. “And they are on every corner.”

In this Ukrainian town there are almost no men left

Halyna, who last year fled her home in Kakhovka, an occupied town in the southern Kherson region, said she spoke this week to her niece, 32, who is still there and described two soldiers accompanying a woman with a ballot box that went from house to house, claiming that they were carrying out a “preliminary vote” due to the bombing.

“I would like this election to happen quickly,” the niece told her aunt in a message reviewed by The Post, adding that Ukrainian artillery fire had given the Russians an excuse to force people to vote at home. “They are targeting the military,” she wrote, “but when those rockets fly overhead, it is so terrifying. I cover my ears but the fear still overwhelms me. And now I’m crying again.”

As the forced vote was taking place, successive Russian ballistic missile attacks hit the southern port city of Odessa on Friday, killing 21 people, including first responders who had arrived to help after the initial explosion. Dozens more were injured and hospitalized.

Among the dead were former Odessa deputy mayor Serhii Tetyukhin and former Odessa regional police chief Oleksandr Hostishchev, who was also head of a National Guard regiment, officials said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Friday that Russia’s pattern of holding sham elections in occupied Ukraine was a cynical attempt to “legitimize Putin’s illegal attempt at a land grab.”

“Let’s call this what it is,” he said. “It’s a blatant propaganda exercise.”

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, responded that “whether we like it or not,” Russia was holding “democratic elections in territories that are administratively, politically and economically part of our country.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that international bodies should no longer recognize Putin’s legitimacy and called for Russia’s suspension from global institutions.

In Berdyansk, an occupied Ukrainian city on the Sea of ​​Azov, a 72-year-old woman reached by phone said election officials were going door to door, urging people to vote. “This is how they try to get more participation,” the woman said. She spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

A 45-year-old woman in Berdyansk, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said three women with an urn accompanied by an armed soldier visited her home and others.” “Those who did not vote at home, those who were not caught, have to go to the polling station to vote,” she said. “Whether I will go or not is another question.”

As Voting Begins in Russian Presidential Election, So Do Protests

Election workers in Mariupol told Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti that the election was “peaceful” and the agency aired interviews with voters who said they hoped life would improve in the region as part of Russia.

RIA Novosti also cited a pro-Kremlin official in Donetsk who claimed that residents were voting in the recently captured Russian town of Avdiivka, which was almost completely destroyed in the fighting with most of the population displaced.

In Russia, authorities have opened at least 15 criminal cases following a wave of protests at Russian polling stations during the first day of voting on Friday.

A voter was detained Saturday in Moscow’s Ramenki district for writing “Putin is a murderer” on his ballot, RusNews reported, after a police officer saw his ballot.

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