Russian forces took control of the council in the city of Kherson in occupied southern Ukraine as it prepares to hold a vote on the future of the broader region, asking the people to vote on its “independence”. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the plan a “false referendum.”
It’s a straight step out of Russia’s playbook.
A similar referendum was held in Crimea in 2014, providing a pretext for Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula just days later.
The United Nations General Assembly called the Crimean referendum invalid. Western countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union have also called the annexation and referendum illegal.
Separately, Russia-backed separatists voted in 2014, after two regions in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine declared their independence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize these two entities – self-described as the popular republics of Donetsk and Luhansk – as independent, was seen as a firefight in Russia’s war on Ukraine in late February.
Another Russian-backed breakaway region, South Ossetia in Georgia, also announced plans in March to hold a referendum on joining Russia. Georgia said such a move was “unacceptable”.
Following the same scenario, Russia is now calling for the Kherson region to become the “Kherson People’s Republic”.
Kherson is a strategically important city at the entrance to the Black Sea with a population of nearly 300,000. Its citizens continued to defy Russia by organizing protests and rallies even after the occupation forces took control of the city center.
President Zelensky applauded his people’s refusal to give their support to Russian forces.
“People [in occupied towns] By protesting, they demonstrated their attitude towards the occupiers. [they have] Show that Ukraine will definitely win,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address on Monday.
Addressing the referendum planned by the Russians, Zelensky said:
Does Russia want to hold a fake “referendum” somewhere on our land? Even if they tried, it would be as shameful as everything else that was created in Moscow to support the occupation of Ukraine.”
Russian troops occupied the Kherson region from the first weeks of the war, but according to Kherson Regional Deputy Yuri Sobolevsky, until Monday they “allowed” the city council to operate “reducedly” under Ukrainian control.
This is no longer the case. “Armed men entered the Kherson City Council building, took the keys and replaced our guards with their own,” Kherson Mayor Igor Kulekhaev said on his Facebook page.