As reported by the New York Times:
Russian soldiers, wearing balaclavas and wielding guns, flanked election workers. Ukrainians forced to vote while Russian officials or their proxies stood guard. Some residents even hid in their homes, terrified that voting against Russia’s annexation would lead to their being abducted, or worse.
As Russia began orchestrating staged voting in referendums across Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine on Friday, Ukrainians in those areas expressed a mix of anger, defiance and fear that their homeland was being usurped by force in what they called a sham vote.
As the Times notes, Russian soldiers are now going “door to door,” peering into people’s houses in order to force Ukrainians to vote at gunpoint. One woman, interviewed for the Times article, reports people turning out their lights and locking their gates in an effort to pretend they are not home. But she worries that this action alone will be enough to subject them to abduction and torture.
“After living side by side with them for more than six months now, we have learned that any refusal could result in a direct ticket to the basement,” she said, using a phrase Ukrainians under occupation in Kherson, a port city in the country’s south, have started using to describe abductions by occupying forces.
As one resident attested, there is only one way you are supposed to vote.
In Mariupol, which is in the Donetsk region, “the main means of coercion for voting is door-to-door canvassing,” said Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor, on Telegram.
“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.”
The PBS NewsHour notes one source who reports that if you vote against annexation you are put on a “list.”
Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai accused Russian officials of taking down the names of people who voted against it. In online posts, Haidai also alleged that Russian officials threatened to kick down the doors of anyone who didn’t want to vote and shared photos of what appeared to be a pair of deserted polling stations.
PBS also reports that Russians and residents of Crimea are being bused in to create the “illusion” of voter enthusiasm:
Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region, told The Associated Press that Russians and residents of Crimea were brought into his city to urge people to vote.
“The Russians see an overwhelming reluctance and fear to attend the referendum and are forced to bring people … to create an image and an illusion of the vote,” he said. “Groups of collaborators and Russians along with armed soldiers are doing a door-to-door poll, but few people open the doors to them.”
The New York Times also reports that there has been internal resistance to the referenda by Ukrainian partisans in some areas:
Ukrainian partisans, sometimes working with special operations forces, have blown up warehouses holding ballots and buildings where Russian proxy officials preparing for the vote held meetings.
An explosion rocked the Russian-controlled southern city of Melitopol on Friday morning before the vote got underway. Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor, warned residents to stay away from Russian military personnel and equipment.
The photograph at the header of this story from Radio Free Europe, depicting women waiting to vote at a mobile voting station in Luhansk, says it all.