Russia-Ukraine war: Ukraine condemns ‘propaganda show’ as ‘voting’ begins in occupied areas – live updates | Ukraine

Referendums are ‘propaganda show’ – Ukraine official

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, has tweeted to reiterate Ukraine’s position on the “referendums” that have started today under Russian control in occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. He has tweeted:

Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only – 1. Propaganda show for z-conscription. 2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

Once again about the crucial. Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only –

1. Propaganda show for z-conscription.
2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) September 23, 2022

Key events

Russian forces have forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians, the US ambassador to the UN’s human rights council, Michele Taylor, said.

Speaking to the UN council, Taylor urged a UN-mandated commission to examine “the growing evidence of Russia’s filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances”.

She said:

Numerous sources indicate that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and forcible deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens.

Ukraine and its allies have accused Russian troops of transporting their citizens to “filtration camps” before forcibly relocating them to Russia. The Kremlin has dismissed these allegations as “fantasy”.

Dan Sabbagh

Dan Sabbagh

It would be cynical to see Saudi Arabia’s efforts to secure the release of international prisoners held by Russian proxies in Ukraine as an attempt to improve the country’s image after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, its foreign minister has said.

Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday Riyadh had first approached the UK government in April, shortly after Aiden Aslin, a British citizen, and others were captured at Mariupol, and had acted for compassionate reasons, hoping to negotiate their release.

Asked if it was a rare opportunity to repair relations with the west, the minister said:

I think that’s a very cynical view. What we saw, what the kingdom’s leadership saw, was an opportunity to achieve a humanitarian breakthrough to facilitate the return of these detainees to their families. And that’s the motivation.

British citizens Aiden Aslin (left) and Shaun Pinner (right), with Moroccan Brahim Saadoun in a courtroom in Donetsk in June. All three were released this week.
British citizens Aiden Aslin (left) and Shaun Pinner (right), with Moroccan Brahim Saadoun in a courtroom in Donetsk in June. All three were released this week. Photograph: AP

Saudi Arabia, which has sought to take a softer stance on Russia following the outbreak of the war, has previously said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in a major diplomatic effort that also appears to have involved the former Chelsea football club owner and billionaire Roman Abramovich.

One of the five Britons released, Shaun Pinner, recognised Abramovich on the plane flying them out from Russia to Riyadh earlier this week and approached him to ask if he was the former football club owner, according to a report in the Sun.

Another of those released, John Harding, recounted the exchange that followed between the two men. “He went over to him on the plane and asked where he was from and Roman said ‘London’.

“Then Shaun said, ‘You really look like Roman Abramovich’ and he replied, ‘That’s because I am him, sir’. He couldn’t believe it.”

Read the full story here:

Summary of the day so far …

  • Pro-Russian authorities in four regions of occupied Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – have been conducting widely-condemned “referendums” on whether the regions desire to be annexed by the Russian Federation.

  • Nato has condemned the plans to hold “referendums”, describing them as Moscow’s “blatant attempts at territorial conquest”. The “sham referenda” have no legitimacy, the alliance said. Referenda plans have been widely condemned as illegitimate and a precursor to illegal annexation.

  • Voting is also taking place for displaced Ukrainian citizens within the territory of Russia.

  • Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, described the votes as a “propaganda show”, saying “there is no legal action called a ‘referendum’ in the occupied territories.”

  • Ivan Fedorov, Ukraine’s elected mayor of Melitopol, has said “participation in a pseudo-referendum is the worst betrayal”. Serhai Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, said that all those involved in running today’s “referendums” will be punished.

  • The UK’s MoD says that “the battle situation remains complex” on the ground, but that “Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory that Russia considers essential to its war aims”, with fighting along the Oskil River, and a Ukrainian assault on the town of Lyman, Donetsk, which Russia captured in May.

  • Russia’s ministry of defence has issued a statement to say that people working in key roles in the country’s information technology, financial and communications sectors will be exempt from the partial mobilisation announced earlier this week.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed directly to Russians in his address on Thursday evening, calling on them to protest mobilisation, fight back, or run away. Those who did not “are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians. Because you were silent,” the Ukrainian president said.

  • Thousands of men across Russia have been handed draft papers after the mobilisation announcement. Among those called up since Putin’s announcement on Wednesday were Russians detained while protesting against the mobilisation, the independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said.

  • The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age as “exaggerated”. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying: “This is not against the law.”

  • Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, also denied reports that an undisclosed clause in Putin’s mobilisation decree provided for 1 million reservists to be enlisted to fight in Ukraine. “This is a lie,” Peskov said in response to a report by Novaya Gazeta.

  • Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas told her nation overnight that power blackouts are possible if Russia kicks the Baltic states from the joint power grid.

The Swiss government has condemned what it described as “sham referendums” taking place today in four areas of occupied Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

Reuters reports that the Swiss government said they were illegal under international law, and that yesterday it summoned the Russian ambassador over the matter.

Here are some images from inside Russia, where people in Volgograd are voting in the “referendum” on whether the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic should be annexed by the Russian Federation.

A “referendum” sign is seen as voting begins in Volgograd, Russia.
A “referendum” sign is seen as voting begins in Volgograd, Russia. Photograph: AP
A man from Ukraine’s occupied Luhansk region votes at a temporary accommodation facility in Volgograd, Russia.
A man from Ukraine’s occupied Luhansk region votes at a temporary accommodation facility in Volgograd, Russia. Photograph: AP
An elderly woman shows her Ukrainian passport as she prepares to vote at a temporary accommodation facility in Volgograd, Russia.
An elderly woman shows her Ukrainian passport as she prepares to vote at a temporary accommodation facility in Volgograd, Russia. Photograph: AP
People from the occupied Luhansk region voting in Russia.
People from the occupied Luhansk region voting in Russia. Photograph: AP

Russia to exempt key IT and communications workers from conscription

Russia’s ministry of defence has issued a statement to say that people working in key roles in the country’s information technology, financial and communications sectors will be exempt from the partial mobilisation announced earlier this week.

It says:

To ensure the operation of certain hi-tech industries, as well as the financial system of the Russian Federation, it was decided not to recruit citizens with higher education in the relevant specialties and areas of training, working in accredited organisations operating in the field of information technology and involved in the development, implementation, maintenance and operation of solutions in the field of information technology and ensuring the functioning of the information infrastructure.

The statement goes on to list sectors including telecoms and financial services and those working on the technical side of media organisations where people can apply to be exempted from mobilisation.

Ivan Fedorov, Ukraine’s elected mayor of Melitopol, has written on Telegram urging residents of the occupied areas of Ukraine not to co-operate with the “referendums” being held by the Russian-imposed authorities in those regions, He writes:

We call on the residents of the occupied territories not to participate in the pseudo-referendum in any way. Participation in it is to support the bloody plan to escalate the war against Ukraine, to voluntarily become part of a closed totalitarian society, to assume part of the responsibility for war crimes, to agree to the mobilisation of men aged 16-55 to replenish the cannon fodder of the Russian Army, to commit a criminal offence

He added, “most importantly, participation in a pseudo-referendum is the worst betrayal”, saying:

Don’t open the door to agitators. Do not go to the polling stations. Completely ignore the entire election process. Stay as far as possible from Russian military and enemy equipment. Our heroic armed forces of Ukraine will definitely liberate all occupied territories from racism.

Here are a couple of images of the “voting” that is taking place in occupied Luhansk today. The pictures show members of the armed forces of the chiefly unrecognised self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic casting their votes at a military unit in Luhansk.

Service members of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic vote in Luhansk.
Service members of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic vote in Luhansk. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Another view of men queing to “vote” in the occupied region of Luhansk in Ukraine.
Another view of men queuing to vote in the occupied region of Luhansk in Ukraine. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi appears to have made a sympathetic interjection on the war on behalf of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Reuters quotes him saying overnight that “Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to invent this ‘special operation’,” Berlusconi said, using the Russian wording for the war.

Moscow’s plan was originally to conquer Kyiv “in a week”, replace Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy with “a government of decent people” and get out “in another week”, he added.

“I haven’t even understood why Russian troops spread around Ukraine while in my mind they should have only stuck around Kyiv,” Berlusconi insisted.

In a message on Telegram, Serhai Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, has said all those involved in running today’s “referendums” in occupied areas of Ukraine will be punished.

He described them as “elections without elections”, and referring to the suggestion that officials are going house-by-house to enable people to vote from home, Haidai said “they fill out some pieces of paper in kitchens, in apartments and yards. It looks extremely strange. It does not smell like privacy.”

He also suggested that part of the operation was also to establish people who might be available for conscription, saying “apartment-by-apartment/yard patrols – this is purely for the purpose of checking apartments to identify men. the occupiers are just looking for ‘cannon fodder’.”

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, a former permanent representative of the UK to the UN has been interviewed on Sky News television in the UK.

He said Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov gave an “Alice in Wonderland” kind of address to the UN about Russia’s position. He told viewers:

I think we’re entering a very dangerous period now. You’ve got the mobilisation of at least 300,000 servicemen, you’ve got the sham referenda in four occupied territories now in eastern Ukraine, and you got the increasingly violent rhetoric, made explicit by Dmitry Medvedev, the number two if you like in Russia, yesterday, saying that Russia would be prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its territory.

I think it has now become clear what Putin’s plan is. He will annex these lands on the back of the sham referenda over the next few days, claim that they are now in Russian territory, and that therefore any attack on that territory is an attack on Russia itself.

Referendums are ‘propaganda show’ – Ukraine official

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, has tweeted to reiterate Ukraine’s position on the “referendums” that have started today under Russian control in occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. He has tweeted:

Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only – 1. Propaganda show for z-conscription. 2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

Once again about the crucial. Today, there is no legal action called a “referendum” in the occupied territories. There is only –

1. Propaganda show for z-conscription.
2. The territory of Ukraine that needs an immediate release.

— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) September 23, 2022

Oleh Synyehubov, governor of Kharkiv, has issued an update on the overnight situation in his region on Telegram.

In his message he says “the enemy continued to terrorise the civilian population of Kharkiv oblast, shelling settlements adjacent to the contact line and the border with the Russian Federation. There are victims, including children.”

He reports that three people were injured in Kupyansk, including “two children – a boy and a girl, seven years old. Doctors assess their condition as moderate”. Synyehubov said that a 51-year-old man was killed by shelling in Kharkiv district.

He also reported two people injured by mines, repeating a warning to “remember the high mine danger and to be very careful. Do not touch suspicious objects and do not move around places that could potentially be mined.”

The casualty claims have not been independently verified.

Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas told her nation overnight that power blackouts are possible if Russia kicks the Baltic states from the joint power grid.

Reuters reports she said “We must also be prepared for Russia might disconnect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from their electricity grid. It would be wise to be prepared for possible power outages – that includes public authorities, companies, and every individual.”

She called on Russian citizens living in Estonia to ignore any summons to fight in Ukraine: “do not go, because there is no turning back”.

That “one million” figure that keeps recurring in some reports about a potential ceiling for the number of people mobilised by Russia comes from news reports yesterday in the independent Novaya Gazeta Europe that the seventh paragraph of the mobilisation decree, which is the only bit of the document that has not been made public, contains that figure in secret.

This has been denied as “a lie” by the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, and defence minister Sergei Shoigu gave the figure for mobilisation as 300,000, but the rumours persist.

The RIA Novosti news agency reported yesterday:

The seventh point is hidden in the document, which attracted the attention of journalists. As Peskov explained, this paragraph is for official use, so he cannot disclose its content. The spokesperson clarified that it was about the number of conscripts.

As Swedish journalist Carl Fridh Kleberg notes, the easiest way for the Russian government to quash the rumours would be to end the public redaction of that part of the decree.

Kremlin denies reports that the secret number regarding how many can actually be drafted is one million as “lies”. A very simple solution would be to simply make the number public.

What… no? https://t.co/Zhlyp9y2qJ

— Carl Fridh Kleberg (@FridhKleberg) September 23, 2022

The Sky News correspondent Alex Rossi is in Russia, and he has just offered this analysis of the situation from Moscow where he is based. He told viewers in the UK:

Certainly on the ground in terms of ordinary people here what’s rattling people a great deal is this partial mobilisation. According to the defence ministry that could see something like 300,000 people drafted into the meat grinder in Ukraine.

But I think people are extremely worried. If you talk to NGOs, human rights organisations, they say that they have been contacted by large numbers of people who are extremely concerned that their rights are going to be violated and they will be drafted.

Now the defence ministry says that it is only people who’ve had previous active military experience, but anecdotally, we’re seeing that that isn’t the case either. And some people say that as many as a million people could be affected by this.

Now again, anecdotally, we are seeing larger numbers of people trying to get out of the country. There have been reports of large queues at the borders of neighbouring countries like Finland’s young man of conscripts age trying to get out. Also we are seeing that the price of airline tickets out of Russia to countries that you don’t need a visa to, they are also increasing in price dramatically as well.

So it is hard to say at this point what effect this will have on Russian society, but certainly, all the signs are it could be fairly corrosive. It is something that Vladimir Putin had so far resisted doing, calling people up into what is effectively a war, but what he is still calling a “special military operation”.

Mykhailo Fedorov, the digital minister in Ukraine, has responded to Russia’s partial mobilisation with a tongue-in-cheek fundraising appeal to make sure that every new Russian soldier has their own Ukrainian drone to deal with. He tweeted:

Ukrainian soldiers are not concerned about Putin’s mobilisation. They are getting their job done. Still for Army of Drones it’s a new challenge: to ensure enough of UAVs for everyone ‘mobilised as a gesture of goodwill’.

🇺🇦 soldiers are not concerned about Putin’s mobilization. They are getting their job done. Still for Army of Drones it’s a new challenge: to ensure enough of UAVs for everyone “mobilized as a gesture of goodwill”. Support us here: https://t.co/R8ETAZ2pIZ pic.twitter.com/XfRRMESFOK

— Mykhailo Fedorov (@FedorovMykhailo) September 23, 2022

Here are some of the latest images sent to us over the newswires from Ukraine.

A local resident searches through leftovers outside a vacated retirement home in Martove, Kharkiv oblast.
A local resident searches through leftovers outside a vacated retirement home in Martove, Kharkiv oblast. Photograph: Maria Senovilla/EPA
Spent cartridges at a former position of Russian troops in the Kharkiv area.
Spent cartridges at a former position of Russian troops in the Kharkiv area. Photograph: Oleksandr Ratushniak/EPA
The Trinity Church that was used as field hospital by Russian forces in Mala Komyshuvakha village, Kharkiv region.
Trinity Church, whichg was used as field hospital by Russian forces in Mala Komyshuvakha village, Kharkiv region. Photograph: Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) that occupies parts of eastern Ukraine has issued overnight casualty figures. It claims that “eight people received injuries of varying severity”, 15 houses were damaged and “seven people died (including two teenagers born in 2008)“ after Ukrainian forces fired into territory which the DPR claims to control.

The DPR is recognised as a legitimate authority by only three UN member states: Russia, Syria and North Korea. The claims have not been independently verified.

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