Russian troops have taken control of the council in the occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson as they prepare to hold a poll on the future of the wider region, asking people to vote for its “independence”. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the plan as a “similar referendum”.
It is a feature straight out of Russia’s war book.
A similar referendum was held in Crimea in 2014, which gave a pretext for Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula a few days later.
The UN General Assembly called the referendum in Crimea invalid. Western countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada and the EU, have also called the annexation and referendum illegal.
Separately, Russian-backed separatists held their own votes in 2014 after declaring two areas in eastern Donbas region of eastern Ukraine independent.
The decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize these two entities – even described as the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics – as independent was seen as the initial salvo of Russia’s war against Ukraine in late February.
Another Russian-backed breakaway region, South Ossetia in Georgia, also announced plans in March to hold a referendum on joining Russia. Georgia said such a move was “unacceptable.”
According to the same manuscript, Russia is now calling for the Kherson region to become the “Kherson People’s Republic”.
Kherson is a strategically important city at the mouth of the Black Sea with a population of almost 300,000. Its citizens continue to defy Russia by staging protests and marches, even after the occupying forces took over the city center.
President Zelensky has paid tribute to his people’s refusal to give their support to Russia’s forces.
“People [in occupied towns] have with their protest shown their attitude to the occupiers; [they have] showed that Ukraine will definitely win, “Zelensky said in his evening video speech on Monday.
In connection with the referendum planned by the Russians, Zelensky said:
Russia wants to hold a fake ‘referendum’ somewhere in our country? “Even if they try, it will be as shameful as anything else that was ‘created’ in Moscow to support the occupation of Ukraine.”
Russian forces have occupied the Kherson region since the opening week of the war, but according to Kherson’s regional deputy Yuri Sobolevsky, they have until Monday “left” the town hall to operate in a “reduced format” under Ukrainian control.
Not so anymore. Kherson Mayor Igor Kolykhaev said on his Facebook page that “armed men entered the building of the Kherson City Council, took the keys and replaced our guards with their own.”