Russian soldiers, wearing balaclavas and wielding guns, flanked election workers. Ukrainians were forced to vote while Russian officials or their proxies stood guard. Some residents even hid in their homes, terrified that voting against Russia’s annexation would lead to their being abducted, or worse.
As Russia began orchestrating staged voting in referendums across Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine on Friday, Ukrainians in those areas expressed a mix of anger, defiance and fear that their homeland was being usurped by force in what they called a sham vote.
The aim of the hastily called referendums — supported by pro-Russian residents and their proxies — was apparent: to give President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a legally bogus pretext to gobble up their country. And they brought back memories of staged votes in 2014 in Crimea that were swiftly followed by Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.
Tina, 27, a freelance journalist who was visiting her fiancé’s parents in Beryslav, in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, said that she drove through the streets on Friday morning and saw Russian officials standing in a neighbor’s yard, waiting for him to fill the ballot before passing it on to someone in a nearby vehicle.
Russian officials were going door to door, she said, to deliver ballots, peering into the windows of homes that did not answer their call.
“We are against these occupiers,” Tina said, “but we do not have a right to say no — we cannot refuse.” [Continue reading…]