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Russia Shells Ukraine Cities Amid Votes09/24 08:58

   

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian forces launched new strikes on Ukrainian 
cities as Kremlin-orchestrated votes took place in occupied regions of Ukraine 
to create a pretext for their annexation by Moscow.

   Ukraine's presidential office said the latest Russian shelling killed at 
least three people and wounded 19. Oleksandr Starukh, the Ukrainian governor of 
Zaporizhzhia, one of the regions where Moscow-installed officials organized 
referendums on joining Russia, said a Russian missile hit an apartment building 
in the city of Zaporizhzhia, killing one person and injuring seven others.

   In the five-day voting in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions and 
Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south that began Friday, election officials 
accompanied by police officers carried ballots to homes and set up mobile 
polling stations, citing safety reasons. The votes are set to wrap up Tuesday, 
when balloting will be held at polling stations.

   Ukraine and its Western allies say the referendums have no legal force. They 
alleged the votes were an illegitimate attempt by Moscow to slice away a large 
part of Ukraine, stretching from the Russian border to the Crimean Peninsula. A 
similar referendum took place in Crimea in 2014 before Moscow annexed it, a 
move that most of the world considered illegal.

   "Half of the population fled the Donetsk region because of Russian terror 
and constant shelling, voting against Russia with their feet, and the second 
half has been cheated and scared," Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

   Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians in occupied regions 
to undermine the referendums and to share information about the people 
conducting "this farce." He also called on people to try to avoid the partial 
troop mobilization Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday or to 
sabotage and desert the Russian military if they ended up in the ranks.

   "If you get into the Russian army, sabotage any activity of the enemy, 
hinder any Russian operations, provide us with any important information about 
the occupiers -- their bases, headquarters, warehouses with ammunition," 
Zelenskyy said.

   Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the voting "looked more like an opinion 
survey under the gun barrels," adding that the Moscow-backed local authorities 
were sending sending armed escorts to accompany election officials and to note 
the names of individuals who voted against joining Russia.

   In the Ukrainian capital, about 100 people from the Russia-occupied city of 
Mariupol, which is part of the Donetsk region, gathered to protest the 
referendum, covering themselves in Ukrainian flags and carrying posters 
"Mariupol is Ukraine."

   "They ruined the city, killed thousands of people, and now they are doing 
some kind of profanation over there," said Vladyslav Kildishov who helped 
organize the rally.

   Elina Sytkova, 21, a demonstrator who has many relatives left in Mariupol 
even though the city spent months under bombardment, said the vote was "like a 
joke, because it's the same as it was in Crimea, meaning it's fake and not 
real." "It's an illusion of choice when there isn't any." she added.

   Russia's Defense Ministry said that the partial mobilization ordered by 
Putin aimed to add about 300,000 troops, but the presidential decree keeps the 
door open for a broader call-up.

   Across Russa's 11 time zones, men hugged their weeping family members before 
being rounded up for service amid fears that a wider call-up might follow. Some 
media reports claimed that the Russian authorities actually plan to mobilize 
more than 1 million, the allegations denied by the Kremlin.

   Police moved quickly to disperse more demonstrations against the 
mobilization that were held in several cities across Russia on Saturday and 
detained more than 100 participants. Over 1,300 protesters were arrested during 
antiwar demonstrations on Wednesday, and many of them immediately received 
call-up summons.

   Many Russian men tried desperately to leave the country, buying up scarce 
and exorbitantly priced plane tickets. Thousands others fled by car, creating 
lines of traffic hours or even days long at some borders.

   The mobilization marked a sharp shift from Putin's effort to cast the 
seven-month war as a "special military operation" that doesn't intefere with 
the lives of most Russians. The massive exodus underlined the unpopularity of 
the war and fueled public outrage that could erode his grip on power.

   Moving to assuage public fears over the call-up, the authorities announced 
that many of those working in high tech, communications or finance will be 
exempt.

   And in a signal that the Kremlin was getting worried about the spreading 
panic and chaos caused by the mobilization, the head of a top state-controlled 
TV station harshly criticized military authorities for hastily sweeping up 
random people to meet mobilization targets instead of calling up people with 
military skills who had served recently, as Putin promised.

   RT chief Margarita Simonyan lashed out at military conscription offices for 
"driving people mad" by rounding up those who weren't supposed to be drafted. 
"It's as if they were tasked by Kyiv to do that," she said.

   Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed regional leader of Chechnya who sent his 
forces to fight in Ukraine and repeatedly called for tougher action, suggested 
that Moscow should more broadly engage personnel from law-enforcement agencies 
in the fighting.

   He denounced those fleeing the mobilization as cowards and argued that 
police and various paramilitary agencies that number a total of 5 million 
together with the military would make a much better-trained and motivated 
fighting force.

   "If we leave 50 percent of the personnel to fulfil their duties, 2.5 million 
others will blow any Western army away and we won't need any reservists," 
Kadyrov said.

   Putin's mobilization order followed a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive that 
forced Moscow's retreat from broad swaths of the northeastern Kharkiv region, a 
humiliating defeat that highlighted blunders in Moscow's military planning.

   The Defense Ministry on Saturday announced the dismissal of Gen. Dmitry 
Bulgakov from the post of deputy defense minister in charge of logistics. It 
didn't mention the cause for his ouster, but the move was widely seen as a 
punishment for the flaws in supporting operations in Ukraine.

 
 
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