MOSCOW, September 23. /TASS/. Residents of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR), as well as the liberated territories of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, will cast their ballots in referendums on accession to Russia between September 23 and 27.
The issue of holding the referendums immediately was raised earlier this week by the public chambers of the DPR and LPR. On Monday, they filed formal requests to heads of their republics. Dates of the referendums were set on Tuesday, and local legislatures unanimously passed referendum laws, while elections authorities approved the procedure.
On Tuesday, residents of the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions joined the initiative as local public organizations filed similar requests to their authorities. The decree of Yegeny Balitsky, head of the military-civilian administration of Zaporozhye region, was posted on his Telegram channel. The decree of the head of the Kherson regional military-civilian administration Vladimir Saldo also took effect, the regional administration told TASS.
In a video address on Wednesday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would back the decision made during the referendums.
Polling stations to work for one day
The format of the plebiscite was the subject of a most heated discussion on the eve of the vote. Due to time limits and technical issues, a decision was made to use traditional paper ballots and refrain from digital voting. In-person voting will take place exclusively on September 27, while on the other days, voting will be organized in communities and in a door-to-door manner for security reasons.
Residents of DPR and LPR will be asked whether they "support their republic’s accession to Russia as a federal subject."
Residents of Zaporozhye and Kherson will be asked if they "favor the region’s secession from Ukraine, creation of an independent country and subsequent accession to Russia as a federal subject."
In the DPR and LPR, where Russian is the only official state language, ballots will be printed in Russian. In the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, the question will be asked in both Ukrainian and Russian languages.
Polling stations in Russia
Due to ongoing Ukrainian shelling attacks, a significant number of Donbass, Zaporozhye and Kherson residents were forced to flee their homes. They will have an opportunity to cast their ballot outside those territories, including in Russia.
As many as 450 polling stations will be set up across the DPR and another 200 will be established for people evacuated to Russia.
LPR residents will be able to cast their ballots at 461 polling stations throughout the republic, as well as in all Russian regions, where a total of 201 polling stations have been created.
The Zaporozhye Region’s authorities announced the establishment of 394 polling stations across the region and another 58 in Russia, the LPR, the DPR and the Kherson Region.
The Kherson Region’s residents will have the opportunity to vote in Crimea and a number of Russian cities, including Moscow, apart from their home region, where eight territorial and 198 district election commissions have been created.
Kherson’s Central Election Commission expects about 750,000 people to take part in the vote. The Zaporozhye Region has around 750,000 registered voters. DPR has printed about 1.5 million ballots for its residents.
All four regions declared their commitment to maximum transparency and legitimacy, being open to monitoring by international observers.
LPR Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairperson Yelena Kravchenko said on Wednesday that the CEC was receiving and "considering" applications from foreign observers though she did not name their countries. According to the election official, foreign observers and observers representing the Civic Chamber will be present at polling stations as well as outside them on the days of the vote.
The DPR CEC said that it expects foreign observers, and promised to provide more information after their accreditation.
Chairperson of the Kherson Region’s election commission Marina Zakharova said that invitations had been sent "to a large number of countries."
The Russian CEC also promised to send its own observers to monitor the referendums. The State Duma (the lower house of parliament) said that members of all parliamentary factions would receive invitations to take part in monitoring the vote.
Security measures to be stepped up
Due to the treat of Ukrainian shelling and subversive acts, the local authorities of all areas are preparing to step up security measures during the voting days.
Vladimir Rogov, the chairman of the civic movement 'We Are Together with Russia,’ said that the Zaporozhye Region has, in fact, "switched to the regime of counter-terrorism operation in the form of drills," with the involvement of heavy military equipment and beefed-up air defenses. Entrances to cities in the Zaporozhye Regions will be brought under control during the referendum, while groups of voting officials going door-to-door will be accompanied by police officers. Prior to the vote, all polling stations were examined by canine units and bomb squads, Head of the Zaporozhye Region’s Military-Civilian Administration Yevgeny Balitsky said.
In the Kherson region, the polling stations will be guarded by the police and the Russian National Guard.
The LPR plans to enlist the help of the Defense Ministry’s forces in security activities along with the police. The DPR authorities said that Russian troops would assist law enforcement agencies and the People’s Militia in ensuring security at polling stations.
Hope for safety and development
Residents of Donbass hope that accession to Russia would bring them security, peace and development, DPR leader Denis Pushilin said. The head of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) Leonid Pasechnik said the people of the republic had been looking forward to the referendum since the conflict broke out in the region in 2014. "It has been the dream that we share, it has been our common future. And now it is about to be put into practice," the LPR leader said.
Meanwhile, Head of the Zaporozhye Region’s Military-Civilian Administration Yevgeny Balitsky described the referendum in his region as a "mere technicality," since its residents already consider themselves a part of Russia.
According to a phone survey conducted by the Institute of Social Marketing (INSOMAR) on September 19 among 4,000 respondents, around 80% of Zaporozhye and Kherson Region residents, 90% of LPR residents and 91% of DPR residents support accession to Russia.