Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and the Russian-controlled territory of Kherson in southern Ukraine said on Tuesday that they would hold referenda on becoming part of Russia from September 23 to 27. 

According to officials, the votes will take place in Kherson and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics that Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized as independent shortly before sending troops to Ukraine in February news agencies.

Their integration into Russia would represent a significant escalation of the military action in Ukraine.

“The People’s Council ruled… to set the days of the referendum for September 23 to September 27,” separatist official Denis Miroshnichenko said as quoted by the Lugansk news portal.

Shortly after, the official Donetsk news agency announced that a referendum would be held on the exact dates in its territory.

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In a separate statement, the leader of the Donetsk rebel group Denis Pushilin asked Putin to consider the region’s becoming part of Russia “as soon as possible.”

“The long-suffering people of Donbas deserve to be part of the Great Country, which they always considered their Motherland,” Pushilin said on social media.

Large parts of the industrial Donbas area have been controlled by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014, after nationwide demonstrations ousted Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president.

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