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Ukraine appeals to citizens under Russian occupation to ignore Putin’s ‘pseudo elections’

By Andrew Carey, Olga Voitovych, Maria Kostenko, Josh Pennington and Darya Tarasova, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine’s government has told citizens living in Russian-occupied territories to turn their backs on what they call Moscow’s pseudo-elections, which culminate on Sunday and are widely assumed to see Vladimir Putin returned as president for six more years.

For Kyiv and its international allies, the voting exercise is seen among other things as a further attempt by Russia to give the appearance of legitimacy to its control over the Ukrainian territory it holds.

“Ukrainian citizens should avoid participating in this farce in every way possible,” government minister Iryna Vereshchuk said – which meant no one should be helping to organize the polling, campaigning, voting, or acting as an observer of the elections, the government said in a statement.

“Do not engage in collaboration, do not help the occupiers to hold fake elections,” Vereshchuk added, warning that those who did so willingly were breaking Ukrainian law, though forced participation was not unlawful.

In-person voting has been underway since Friday, but Sunday is expected to see the largest number of polling stations open in Crimea as well as those parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are also under Russian occupation.

In an indication of the importance attached by Moscow to optics, Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti ran a report Saturday on its Telegram channel which purported to show a mobile election team setting up in Avdiivka, a town captured by Russian forces last month in an important territorial gain.

“Our team is mobile to give the residents of Avdiivka the opportunity to vote in the presidential election. We have everything that is necessary for voting – ballots, a ballot box, a screen,” a man called Danil, described as an election commission head, says, a scarf around his face hiding his identity.

As several people are shown casting their votes, a woman, who says she is an Orthodox Christian of the Russian Church, expresses her gratitude.

“We’ve been waiting for this. I’m very glad. Thank you very much for coming to us,” she says.

Russian Telegram channels have showed other mobile election teams across the occupied territories, including some which appear to clearly show Russian soldiers accompanying election officials as they go house to house.

One video from Luhansk shows an old woman inside her apartment filling out an election paper and putting it in the ballot box, while a man in army fatigues stands over her with a rifle slung across his chest.

Ukrainian officials say intimidation tactics like that are commonplace and are aimed at forcing people to give their vote to Putin.

For their part, Russian-installed officials in the occupied territories reported several explosions close to polling stations on Saturday, at least some of which Ukraine appeared to acknowledge.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the civilian-military administration in occupied Zaporizhzhia, said an improvised explosive device had been detonated outside a building to be used for voting in the port city of Berdiansk. A wall had been damaged but there were no casualties, he wrote on Telegram.

Responding, a Ukrainian official wrote ironically on social media, “It’s loud in Berdiansk … it seems there was an unpleasant incident.” Later, the same Ukrainian official reported locals hearing a second explosion in the city, also outside a building scheduled for use as a polling station.

Elsewhere, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed head in occupied Kherson, reported a 50-year-old woman had been killed by a drone strike in the town of Kakhovka, which sits on the Dnipro River. Saldo claimed the attack was an “attempt to destabilize the situation in the town during voting.”

On Friday, he accused Ukraine of shelling a building elsewhere in Kakhovka where voting was taking place. There were no casualties from that attack, he said.

Russia’s election officials have been posting updates on what they say is turnout in the various regions. In occupied Kherson, the figure by 5:30 p.m. on Saturday was put at 77.7%, while in occupied Donetsk the figure just after 9 p.m. Saturday stood at 86.5%.

Ukraine says Moscow will fabricate the final results and insists that the majority of people living under Russian occupation are choosing not to take part in the poll.

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