Voting began Friday in Moscow-held regions of Ukraine on referendums to become part of Russia, Russian-backed officials there said.
The Kremlin-orchestrated referendums, which have been widely denounced by Ukraine and the West as shams without any legal force, are seen as a step toward annexing the territories by Russia.
The votes are being held in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
The vote, which asks residents if they want their regions to be part of Russia, is certain to go Moscow’s way. That would give Russia the pretext to claim that attempts by Ukrainian forces to regain control are attacks on Russia itself, dramatically escalating the seven-month war.
The referendums follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order of a partial mobilization, which could add about 300,000 Russian troops to the fight. The balloting will continue for five days through Tuesday.