The Russian military has taken control of the council in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson as it prepares to hold a poll on the future of the wider region, asking people to vote on “background” its independence”. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the plan as a “fake referendum.”
It was a step straight out of the Russian war drama.
A similar referendum was held in Crimea in 2014, providing a pretext for Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula just days later.
The UN General Assembly has called the referendum in Crimea invalid. Western countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union, have also called the merger and referendum illegal.
Separately, Russian-backed separatists held their own vote in 2014, after declaring two regions in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine independent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize these two entities – calling themselves the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics – as independent was seen as the opening step in Russia’s war with Ukraine at the end of February.
Another Russian-backed breakaway region, South Ossetia in Georgia, also announced in March plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia. Georgia said such a move was “unacceptable.”
Under the same scenario, Russia is now calling for the Kherson region to become the “Kherson People’s Republic.”
Kherson is a strategically important city on an estuary of the Black Sea with a population of nearly 300,000. Its citizens have continued to defy Russia by organizing demonstrations and marches even after the occupying forces have occupied the city center.
President Zelensky praised his people for refusing to support Russian forces.
“Everyone [in occupied towns] protested their attitude towards the occupiers; [they have] shows that Ukraine will definitely win,” Zelensky said in his nightly video speech on Monday.
Speaking ahead of the referendum planned by the Russians, Zelensky said:
Russia wants to hold a fake ‘referendum’ somewhere on our land? Even if they tried, it would be as embarrassing as everything else that was ‘created’ in Moscow in support of the occupation of Ukraine. “
Russian forces have occupied the Kherson area since the first weeks of the war, however, according to Kherson regional deputy Yuri Sobolevsky, until Monday they must “allow” the town hall to operate “in the form of ” eased” under Ukraine’s control.
This is no longer the case. Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaev said on his Facebook page that “armed men entered the Kherson City Council building, took the keys and replaced our bodyguards with theirs.”