Ukraine 'referendums': Soldiers go door-to-door for votes in polls
Ukrainians have reported armed soldiers going door-to-door in occupied parts of the country to collect votes for self-styled "referendums" on joining Russia, the BBC reported.
Russia launched referendums on Friday (Sep 23) aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine, raising the stakes of the seven-month-old war in what Kyiv called a sham that saw residents threatened with punishment if they did not vote.
The door-to-door voting is for "security", Russian state media says.
In southern Kherson, Russian guardsmen stood with a ballot box in the middle of the city to collect people's votes.
"In-person voting will take place exclusively on 27 September," Tass reported. "On the other days, voting will be organised in communities and in a door-to-door manner."
One woman in Melitopol told the BBC that two local "collaborators" arrived with two Russian soldiers at her parents' flat, to give them a ballot to sign.
"My dad put 'no' [to joining Russia]," the woman said. "My mum stood nearby, and asked what would happen for putting 'no'. They said, 'Nothing'.
"Mum is now worried that the Russians will persecute them."
The woman also said there was one ballot for the entire household, rather than per person.
Ukraine says 447 bodies exhumed at Izium, 30 with 'signs of torture'
Experts say the self-styled referendums, taking place across five days, will allow Russia to claim - illegally - four occupied or partially-occupied regions of Ukraine as their own.
The "annexation" would not be recognised internationally, but could lead to Russia claiming that its territory is under attack from Western weapons supplied to Ukraine, which could escalate the war further.
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday that Russian referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine are a sham and said Washington "will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine."
UK foreign secretary calls on countries to reject pro-Russia referenda in Ukraine
In a statement, Biden said Washington "will work with our allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia."
The leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies, condemned Russia's "sham" referendums, saying it was an attempt by Moscow to create a "phony" pretext for changing the status of Ukrainian sovereign territory.
"We will never recognise these referenda which appear to be step toward Russian annexation and we will never recognise purported annexation if it occurs," they wrote in a joint statement sent by the German government spokesperson.