Ukrainian officials from occupied areas of the country accused pro-Russian forces on Friday of using coercive tactics in referendums on secession that Western leaders have described as a “sham”.
Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor, said on Telegram that “the main means of coercion to vote is door-to-door canvassing.”
“The commission consists of two people with a ballot box and ballot papers and two armed men,” he said.
“They knock on the doors of apartments/houses, force neighbors to get people to come to the commission. Coercion, coercion and more coercion. In fact, they offer to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ directly at the barrel of a gun.”
Mariupol Are you Donetskone of four Ukrainian regions – occupied to varying degrees by Russian and pro-Russian forces – where Russian-backed leaders are holding what Ukraine and Western governments have denounced as sham referendums on joining the Russian Federation.
Andriushchenko is not in town but has been a reliable conduit for information from Mariupol. CNN is unable to independently verify his and other characterizations.
“The polling stations are located in shops and cafes,” Andriushchenko said. “However, they are empty. There are no usual facilities such as polling stations there. The mark is made under the close supervision of armed persons. This is what Russian democracy looks like.”
Yurii Sobolevskyi, deputy head of Kherson Regional Council, told CNN that efforts being made in his region have seen very little turnout.
“Most people are determined not to go,” he said. “That’s why this door-to-door idea came about, because when armed people come to your house, it will be difficult and dangerous even to refuse to vote.”
He said the United Russia political party – the ruling party in Russia – has campaigned for secession while also distributing food parcels to residents.
He said the population of the occupied city of Kherson had been halved since Russia’s invasion. Those who remain, he said, skew toward the elderly.
The Ukrainian mayor in exile Melitopol — which is inside Zaporizhzhia regionand occupied by Russia – also called on residents to boycott the vote.
Ivan Fedorov said on Telegram that to participate was to “assume part of the responsibility for war crimes in Bucha, Borodianka, Mariupol, Izium, etc.”
“Participating in a pseudo-referendum is the worst betrayal,” he said. “Yourself, your family, all Ukrainians, your country!”