Ukraine called on EU and NATO countries Wednesday to hit Russia with more sanctions and send more weapons to the frontline after Kremlin proxies held “sham” annexation votes in four occupied Ukrainian regions.
The appeal for more weapons from Kyiv came despite repeated warnings from Moscow that it could use its nuclear arsenal to defend the territories from a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has wrested back swathes of territory this month already.
The alleged results of the referendums in the Russian-controlled regions were announced by Kremlin proxy officials late Tuesday, and authorities were expected to ask Moscow to make good on the claimed results as early as Wednesday.
Kyiv’s closest backers within the NATO military alliance and the European Union have all denounced the move and said they would not recognise any outcome. On Wednesday, Ukraine urged them to take concrete steps.
“Ukraine calls on the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven to immediately and significantly increase pressure on Russia, including by imposing tough sanctions and significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The elections represent a turning point in the seven-month invasion as Russian officials in Moscow suggest that they could use nuclear weapons and Vladimir Putin rushed thousands of Russian military draftees to cement Kremlin’s authority in the territories.
“In the end, we’ll win”
Taken together, the four territories — Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south; Donetsk and Lugansk in the east — create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Together, all five make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, whose forces in recent weeks have been clawing back ground.
Despite those gains — particularly in the north east — Russian forces have battered the second-largest city of Kharkiv and overnight a salvo of missiles hit a railway yard, knocking out power to more than 18,000 households.
Railway workers were inspecting a landscape of bent and twisted mental in the aftermath of the strikes early Wednesday after firefighters extinguished a blaze set by the attacks.
“These votes are not legitimate. We believe in our forces. In the end, we’ll win,” said Denys Kochkov, a 30-year-old employee at the rail yard.
“We here even speak Russia, and what do we get? Do we have peace and fraternity? No. You see what we get,” said Iryna, 51, another railway employee at the blast site.
The Kremlin-backed heads of both the Donetsk and Lugansk regions — which have partially been controlled by separatists since 2014 — indicated Wednesday morning they would travel to Moscow to appeal to authorities to formally begin the annexation.
“I’m in shock”
And Vladimir Saldo the Russian-installed head of the Kherson region — where Ukrainian forces have been making incremental gains — said residents there had “voted for joining Russia”.
He added he would appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to initiate legal proceedings to annex the Ukrainian region bordering Crimea “as quickly as possible”.
Lawmakers are expected to vote hastily to annex the territories after the results are announced and Russian news agencies have said Putin could sign legislation formalising the land grab this week.
His threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine coincided with his decision to call up hundreds of thousands of military reservists to back up Russia’s struggling forces in eastern Ukraine.
The move has sparked panic, protests and a exodus among military-aged Russian men for neighbouring countries like Georgia and Kazakhstan.
But at a military recruitment office in Saint Petersburg there was confusion and resignation as draftees and their families saw off their loved ones and family members.
Nikita, a 25-year-old reservist had tears in his eyes as he held hands with his 22-year-old fiancé as he said goodbye.
“If you have to go, you have to,” he said.
“I don’t what to say. I am in shock,” Alina said, her gaze locked on Nikita.
Along the frontline of Ukraine, six people were injured in the Kharkiv region by Russian strikes, officials in Kyiv said, while five civilians were killed and 10 more wounded by Moscow’s forces.
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