Ukrainians ‘run and hide’ as armed Russians force them to vote in sham elections

Armed Russian authorities force Ukrainians to vote in sham elections

Ukrainians trapped in the occupied regions are “hiding in their homes” as Russian soldiers armed with “machine guns” go door-to-door forcing them to vote for Kremlin-backed war criminals, desperate civilians in the area have reported.

Sham elections in the four occupied regions of Ukraine, as well as Crimea, culminate on Sunday (September 10) after more than a week of staggered voting. They are taking place alongside regional elections across Russia.

In an effort to falsely convince the population at home and abroad that Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” is one of liberation not invasion, the Kremlin’s forces are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure a significant turnout to these elections.

Millions of Ukrainians are being subjected to “psychological pressure” and threats of “detainment, injury, torture and death” in a bid to force their participation.

The result is predetermined – a victory for Putin’s United Russia party is imminent; most of the available candidates represent them – but for the sake of the “propaganda machine”, Ukrainians have no choice but to partake.

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Throughout September, exiled Ukrainian officials with access to residents of the occupied regions have been reposting reports from the ground.

One eyewitness in Kherson Oblast, southern Ukraine, in comments reported by Yurii Sobolevskii, first deputy head of the region’s council, said: “Today we also have these elections in the village. [The Russians] go from house to house, but people warn each other about whose street it is and run to hide, pretending that there is no one at home.”

Another local resident reported that “two soldiers with machine guns and three collaborators from the village” were conducting “door-to-door rounds”, forcing those hiding to vote under threat of severe punishment.

Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s mayor of Mariupol, posted photos of a car manned by Russian authorities in the occupied city in Donetsk Oblast. “[The Russians] grabbed everyone around, documents were not checked,” he wrote.

Reports suggest mobile voting booths, which are simply cars stuffed with ballot paper, are being driven to local bus stops. While armed guards loom over them, civilians are then plucked from the streets and hurriedly forced to vote.

In Berdyansk, in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, hospital bosses have been ordered to send all medical staff to polling stations, making avoiding the vote evermore difficult.

In other areas, described by Russian-appointed governors as “hard-to-reach settlements and places near the front line”, voting was brought forward to ensure that they were not able to avoid casting their “decision”.

Donetsk election commission member Marina Guselnikova told TASS it was to “protect our citizens … in order to avoid crowding at polling stations”, a thinly-veiled suggestion that Ukraine would bomb its own people.

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In reality, it is an attempt to “manipulate the numbers”, Elina Beketova, a Crimean-born journalist now working as an in-house fellow at the Centre for European Policy Analysis, told

“By offering so many options for voting over so many days, Moscow is maximising its opportunities to massage the numbers and feed its propaganda channels”, she wrote on Thursday (September 7).

“If there are fewer people than expected at polling stations on September 10, it will now be more plausible for the Kremlin to claim others voted from home or voted early when it publishes inflated turnout statistics.”

The candidates on the ballot include regime-linked officials, people involved in war crimes and corruption, and Russians brought into Ukraine especially for the vote, according to analysis by IStories and the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT). All of the candidates are pro-Kremlin.

But the occupying authorities need to force Ukrainian participation in the elections to show to their fellow Russians at home and abroad that there is overwhelming support for their “special military operation”.

Ms Beketova said these efforts were part of a “propaganda machine” designed for one purpose: to give the inaccurate impression that “everything is stable and under control” in the occupied regions.

The Russians are “creating this parallel reality that the resident population is very happy with what is going on there,” she said.

That these elections are fraudulent is unsurprising. Russia under Vladimir Putin has quashed opposition and rigged elections for decades. The lengths to which Russian forces will go to push their propaganda, however, for the sake only of justifying their invasion, is shocking.

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