The Russian-initiated referendum started on Friday morning in the occupied regions of Ukraine. Earlier this week, Pro-Kremlin leaders of Lugansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk called for a vote to become part of Russia. The Russian government quickly finalized the arrangement, hoping to complete the process before the advancing Ukrainian forces get too close.
“The parliaments of the people’s republics of Donbas and the civil-military administration of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions decided to hold a referendum on the future of these territories. They have asked Russia to support this step, and we stressed that we will do everything to ensure the safe conditions for people to express their will,” Putin said on Wednesday.
Officials in the region confirmed on Friday morning that voting started as early as 0500 GMT, and every resident must participate in the process.
“Voting has started in the referendum on the Zaporizhzhia region becoming a part of Russia as a constituent entity of the Russian Federation! We are coming home! Godspeed, friends!” said Vladimir Rogov, a pro-Russian official in the region.
The four regions are under the control of the Russian forces, either entirely or partly. Donetsk and Lugansk are in Eastern Ukraine, while Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are in Southern Ukraine. They occupy at least 15% of entire Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said the referendum was a sign that Russia was becoming scared.
“Any decision that the Russian leadership may take changes nothing for Ukraine. Of interest to us are strictly the tasks before us,” Zelensky said on Thursday. “This is the liberation of our country, defending our people and mobilizing world support to carry out those tasks.”
The referendum, a one-sided coin
Elections and referendums always have at least two possible outcomes. However, the one currently going on in Ukraine can only have one outcome. Russia is sure to win. With Russian troops occupying all the regions, one would not be sure how transparent the process would be.
In 2014, Russia organized a similar referendum in Crimea, and 97% are said to have voted to join Russia. The outcome was widely criticized by the West and the international community as rigged.
Comments coming out of Russia suggest that there is a certainty that the vote will go the way of Moscow.
“From the very start of the operation … we said that the peoples of the respective territories should decide their fate, and the whole current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their fate,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after the announcement of the referendum.
Although it would take some days to know the outcome of the four-day process, experts believe that the lovers of Ukraine still in the region could be wasting their time trying to prove that they want to remain a part of Ukraine. The vote is certain to go Moscow’s way because the coin has always been one-sided.
The unspoken desire to join Russia
Although the Russian forces are aggressively invading Ukraine, there is something that is not often mentioned in the conflict. Some residents in these regions want to become a part of Russia, if not the majority. Eastern Ukraine is not controlled like other parts of Ukraine. Donetsk and Lugansk had since established governments before the Russian invasion.
During the referendum to dissolve the Soviet Union, a little over 50% of voters in Eastern Ukraine voted to be part of Ukraine, making it the lowest in any Ukrainian region.
Lately, there seems to be dissatisfaction with the Ukrainian government, which might have pushed some residents to take sides with Russia. Although this does not make the activities of the Russians legal, there is almost a balance between those who want to remain a part of Ukraine and those that want to become part of Russia.
Olexii, who is currently in Zaporizhzhia told Aljazeera that “there are people who really believe that if Luhansk joins Russia, life will become better and they will be happier.”
“I’m surprised because most of them worked for Ukrainian companies and earned a good living. Now they have nothing, but they are supporting Russia,” he added.
A referendum is no doubt the best way to solve the puzzle. However, a transparent and unquestionable vote would have been better than the one which is only certified legitimate by Russia.