Separatist leaders in four regions of Ukraine say that referenda on joining Russia – widely condemned in the West as a farce – are underway.

Western and Ukrainian leaders alike have denounced the exercise, which will take place in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, as a “sham” of no legal consequence.

A service member of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) votes during a referendum on joining LPR to Russia, at a military unit in Luhansk, Ukraine September 23, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Large swaths of the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions in particular are still held by Ukrainian forces, and leaders in Kyiv have urged people in occupied regions to boycott the process.

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“The long-awaited referendum has started, which is designed to restore the fair course of things in our land, to return peace to our homes, to consolidate the status of Donbas as part of our historical Motherland – Russia,” Vladimir Bidyovka, head of the People’s Council of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic said in a propaganda statement published on Telegram.

Voting, he said, will be conducted by the Central Election Commission of the DPR either by visiting people’s homes or near their homes. On the final day of voting, September 27, people can vote at polling stations.

How is the referendum conducted? In Donetsk, the question will only be presented in Russian. The chair of the People’s Council — an unelected body — in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, Vladimir Bidyovka, called Russian the “state language.”

The polling question is: “Are you in favor of joining of the DPR to the Russian Federation on the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation?” The self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic uses the same phrasing.

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