So-called referendums announced earlier this week on whether Russia-occupied Ukrainian regions should formally be annexed by Russia got underway on Friday.
Polls were organized in Russia-occupied areas of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine's east and southeast amid the backdrop of the ongoing fighting.
In a video posted on his Telegram channel, separatist leader Denis Pushilin from the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic" called the annexation votes "decisive" and a "breakthrough into a new reality."
The Kremlin-orchestrated ballots, which have been widely denounced by Ukraine and the West as a "sham," are set to take place over 5 days until Tuesday.
Russian news agencies reported that turnout on the first day varied between 15% and 24% depending on the region: 15% in Kherson, 20% in Zaporizhzhia, 22% in Luhansk, and 24% in Donetsk.
People living in the occupied areas are being asked if they want their regions to be part of Russia. The outcome is almost certain to go Moscow's way, and would give Russia the pretext to claim that attempts by Ukrainian forces to regain control are attacks on Russia itself.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow intends to quickly incorporate the occupied regions into the Russian Federation, pending the outcome of the vote, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
Asked how long the recognition process would take, Peskov said he was "convinced that it will be quick enough."
The so-called referendums follow President Vladimir Putin's order of a partial military mobilization, which could add as many as 300,000 Russian conscripts to the fight in Ukraine.
For more news go to: http://www.dw.com/en/
Follow DW on social media:
Für Videos in deutscher Sprache besuchen Sie: https://www.youtube.com/dwdeutsch
#Russia #Ukraine #annexation