Ukrainian officials from occupied areas of the country are on Friday accusing pro-Russian forces of using coercive tactics in referendums on secession, which Western leaders have described as a “sham.”
Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor, said on Telegram that “the main means of coercion for voting is door-to-door canvassing.”
“The commission consists of two people with a ballot box and ballots, and two armed men,” he said.
“They knock on the doors of apartments/houses, force neighbors to make people come to the commission. Coercion, coercion and more coercion. In fact, they offer to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ directly into the barrel of a gun.”
Mariupol is in Donetsk, one of four Ukrainian regions — occupied to varying degrees by Russian and pro-Russian forces — where Russian-backed leaders are holding what Ukraine and Western governments have decried as sham referendums on joining the Russian Federation.
Andriushchenko is not in the city, but has been a reliable conduit for information from Mariupol. CNN is not able to independently verify his and other characterizations.
“Polling stations are located in shops and cafes,” Andriushchenko said. “However, they are empty. There are no usual amenities such as polling booths there. The mark is made under the close supervision of armed people. This is what Russian democracy looks like.”
Yurii Sobolevskyi, deputy head of the Kherson Regional Council, told CNN that the effort being carried out in his region has seen very little turnout.
“Most people are determined not to go,” he said. “That’s why this door-to-door idea came about, because when armed people come to your house, it will be difficult and dangerous even to refuse to vote.”
He said that the United Russia political party — the ruling party in Russia — has been campaigning for secession while also handing out food packages to residents.
He said that the population of Kherson city, which is occupied, had been reduced by half since Russia’s invasion. Those who remain, he said, skewed toward the elderly.
The Ukrainian mayor-in-exile of Melitopol — which is in Zaporizhzhia region, and occupied by Russia — also urged residents to boycott the vote.
Ivan Fedorov said on Telegram that to participate was to “assume part of the responsibility for war crimes in Bucha, Borodianka, Mariupol, Izium, etc.”
“Participation in a pseudo-referendum is the worst betrayal,” he said. “Yourself, your family, all Ukrainians, your country!”