Polling stations in Russian-occupied Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia opened on Thursday with much fanfare from Moscow and condemnation from Kyiv.

What’s happening?

Voting was due to take place on September 10 as part of polls held in several Russian regions to elect governors, local parliaments and municipal councils.

But occupation authorities in Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia organized early elections from Thursday, while voting in Kherson and Luhansk will open on Saturday.

No real opposition is standing as the authorities lead a crackdown on critical voices that intensified after the war in Ukraine began in February last year, with leading figures in jail or exile.

In September 2022, Russia annexed the Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions despite not fully controlling any of them following referendums that Kyiv and its Western allies have branded as shams.

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Who are the candidates?

All those in the running have received President Putin’s blessing and are members of the Kremlin's United Russia and face only nominal opposition in an attempt to give the elections a slightly democratic air.

What sort of platforms are the candidates running on?

Just the usual Kremlin stances like “Gay people are evil,” that sort of thing.

How has Ukraine responded?

Kyiv has condemned the elections and in an interview with Reuters, the exiled mayor of Mariupol, said: “It’s clear that there is no trust from the people toward this process, which should be called a sham election.

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“They (Russian-installed officials) are going to walk from apartment to apartment, as they did before, talking to people.

“There are two soldiers standing nearby, carrying machine guns, and they tell the people that they must vote.”

There has also been a far less subtle and much more direct response from Kyiv – a Ukrainian drone attack on a gathering of occupation authority officials in the Zaporizhzhia region struck “more than 30 traitors,” Kyiv’s security services claimed earlier this week.

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A Kyiv Post source in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), said the strike targeted a gathering of “chairmen of precinct election commissions” in the city of Kamyanka-Dniprovska on Tuesday.

“More than 30 traitors, who were guarded by the Russian military, in particular, Kadyrov people, gathered,” the source told Kyiv Post.

“During the meeting, they wanted to organize the distribution of ballots and voting booths.

“The SBU ‘adjusted’ the plans of the occupiers with the help of attack drones.”

Then there’s the fact that fighting in those areas is still raging as Ukraine pushes a counteroffensive launched in June along a vast front of almost 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

After weeks of grinding combat, Kyiv is hoping for a major breakthrough in the Zaporizhzhia region after recapturing the village of Robotyne this week.

How has the international community reacted?

In a vote last October in response to Moscow’s illegal annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, three quarters of countries at the United Nations General Assembly condemned the move.

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Only four of Russia’s allies voted against the resolution – Syria, Nicaragua, North Korea and Belarus, while 35 countries abstained from the vote, including Russia’s strategic partner China.

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