Key developments on Sept. 25
- Sham referendums on joining Russia continue in the occupied parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
- Media: Russia to ban military-age men from leaving the country starting Sept. 28
- Russia fires 4 missile strikes, 7 airstrikes across Ukraine
- Zelensky: 2 more mass graves found in Izium
Russia’s sham referendums with the goal of annexing nearly one-fifth of Ukrainian territory have reached a halfway point.
Reports of local residents in Russian-held territories in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts being forced to vote under duress are emerging.
In occupied Mariupol, a port city in Donetsk Oblast that has been brutally besieged and almost destroyed by Russia, local residents are being given big bottles of water in exchange for a “vote,” Petro Andriushchenko, an advisor to the mayor of Mariupol, reported.
A resident in the occupied city of Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that residents were offered the Russian ruble equivalent of $691 each for supporting the annexation.
The Russians are also checking residents’ houses and writing down the names of locals who vote against the annexation, Luhansk Oblast Governor Serhiy Haidai reported on Sept. 25. He also said that Russian troops have banned Ukrainian men from leaving the occupied region so that they could mobilize them.
“Democratic elections are not held at gunpoint,” Haidai said.
Moscow’s annexation plans
Russia may be planning to annex the occupied territories on Sept. 30, Verstka, a Russian media outlet, reported, citing anonymous sources in the parliament.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly set to address the Russian parliament and authorize the annexation of the territories after announcing the results of the “voting,” closely resembling the way Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.
Russia already has its foreign observers lined up. These include Belarus, Syria, Egypt, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Togo, and South Africa, Ukraine’s Ministry for the Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories reported on Sept. 24.
Ukraine and its Western allies have condemned Moscow’s plans to annex large swathes of Ukraine.
Also on Sept. 24, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said that Kyiv had requested an urgent UN Security Council meeting over the sham referendums. However, Russia and its ally China, permanent members of the council, are likely to block the move.
People cast their votes in controversial referendums in a Russian-occupied territory in Donetsk Oblast on Sept. 24, 2022. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Immediately after finishing the stage annexation referendums, Russia is planning to ban military-age men from leaving the country on Sept. 28, Russian independent media outlet Meduza reported, citing two sources.
The report comes amid a wave of Russians fleeing abroad in the wake of Putin’s decision to announce a “partial mobilization” of conscripts for the war against Ukraine on Sept. 21.
Despite formal criteria set in the mobilization decree, many reports show that any Russian man may be drafted regardless of whether he fits the criteria. A half-blind 59-year-old surgeon with skin cancer is reportedly among the recent conscripts.
As a result, even pro-Kremlin officials have reacted to the scandals around mobilization.
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said on Sept. 25 that she knew about cases when those ineligible for military service were being drafted, saying that it is “absolutely unacceptable.”
Matviyenko urged regional governors to make sure that the “partial mobilization” does not target those who are ineligible.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, also emphasized on Sept. 25 that “the authorities at every level should understand their responsibilities” and that mistakes need to be corrected.
On Sept. 24, Putin signed amendments to toughen penalties for those who voluntarily surrender as prisoners of war or refuse to fight. Soldiers can be imprisoned for up to 10 years if they refuse to take part in combat operations, according to the Kremlin.
While most analysts argue that the mobilization is unlikely to significantly boost Russia’s stalled war effort in Ukraine, some experts warned that it should not be dismissed completely.
Anti-mobilization protests continue across Russia, with hundreds of protestors detained each day.
In occupied Crimea, Russian forces drafted about 1,000 military-age men to fight in occupied Kherson Oblast, where a counteroffensive is underway, Ukraine’s military reported. According to the report, the conscripts are to remain there until the end of the war.
While Russian forces continued shelling along the front line in Donetsk Oblast from tanks, mortars, and barrel artillery, Ukraine repelled attacks near seven settlements on Sept. 25, the military reported.
In the south, Russian forces are focusing on holding onto the captured territories in Kherson Oblast amid Ukraine’s counteroffensive efforts, the Southern Operational Command said. Ukraine reportedly continues to inflict logistic damages on the Russian army.
Iranian drone attacks continue. Early on Sept. 25, Russian forces used Iranian-made kamikaze drones to attack Odesa, hitting an undisclosed administrative building in the center of the city, the Southern Operational Command reported.
Later in the day, Ukraine’s air defense shot down the same type of drone near Mykolaiv in the south, according to the report. No casualties were reported in either of the attacks.
Casualties and attacks
Russian forces launched four missile strikes and seven airstrikes across Ukraine on Sept. 25, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.
Exhumation at Izium’s mass burial site has ended. The emergency service said that 447 bodies had been exhumed at the site.
In an interview with CBS News, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the authorities had found two more mass graves in Izium where hundreds of people are believed to be buried.
In Donetsk Oblast, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported that two people were killed in Bakhmut and eight others were wounded across the region on Sept. 24.
Overnight, Russian forces fired upon residential areas along the 200-kilometer front line in the region, including a S-300 missile strike that damaged three houses and a local school, according to the governor.
In Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko reported that Russian forces had fired more than 170 shells from Grad multiple rocket launchers and barrel artillery on Nikopol District.
An electric substation in Nikopol was damaged, cutting off more than 3,200 households in the city from electricity, Reznichenko said.