Ukraine war – live: Russia-held territories hold referendum today to break away from Kyiv

Ukraine war – live: Russia-held territories hold referendum today to break away from Kyiv

UK foreign secretary warns that Vladimir Putin planning to escalate war Four Russia-backed territories in Ukraine, amounting to around 15 per cent of the besieged country, have opened voting in referendums today to break away from Kyiv. The referendums, denounced as a Moscow-led “sham” by the world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly this week, will run from today to Tuesday. Analysts fear Putin will use annexation of the territories into Russian federation to escalate its military offensive against Ukraine. One day after Vladimir Putin announced the partial military mobilisation of men in Russia’s reserve forces, some 10,000 volunteers have reportedly enlisted without even waiting for their call-up papers, the Russian General Staff said. But there are also reports of attempts to flee a potential call-up, with prices for one-way flights out of Moscow to the nearest foreign locations rising above $5,000 (£4,440), with most air tickets sold out completely. And late on Thursday, the Russian foreign minister walked out of the UN Security Council after accusing Ukraine of Russophobia and neo-Nazism. A British prisoner of war held by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine has expressed his disbelief on being welcomed by Roman Abramovich on his luxury jet. John Harding is one of the five British prisoners who were released after Saudi Arabia brokered an exchange between Russia and Ukraine. The British nationals had an emotional return to the UK after spending six months in captivity by Russian separatists. The former Chelsea club owner “treated them like royalty” in a drastic switch from their previous life of being beaten regularly in cramped cells. Billionaire told he looked like Roman Abramovich, to which he replied, ‘That’s because I am him, sir’ Traffic into Finland across its southeastern border with Russia continues to be busy, the country’s border guard told Reuters on Friday, adding that the number of Russian citizens entering more than doubled on Thursday compared to the week before. Finland is considering barring most Russians from entering the country as traffic arriving from its eastern neighbour “intensified” on Thursday following president Vladimir Putin’s order for a partial military mobilisation. “This morning it remains busy … maybe increasing a little bit from yesterday,” a spokesperson for the border guard said early on Friday. The queue was longest at the busy Vaalimaa crossing with cars lining up for around 500 metres, which was longer than on Thursday, the spokesperson said. Lines were also “longer than normally” at the second-biggest Nuijamaa crossing. Voting has begun 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, partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. In Kherson, which is almost fully controlled by Moscow, the balloting was also expected to get underway on Friday morning. 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 7-month-old conflict. The referendums follow President Vladimir Putin’s order of a partial mobilization, which could add some 300,000 Russian troops to the fight. Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees from the occupied regions can cast their votes. Denis Pushilin, separatist leader of Moscow-backed authorities in the Donetsk region, called the referendum on Friday “a historical milestone.” A long-term strategy will reassure Ukrainians and send an unequivocal message to Putin that Britain will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to see off Russian aggression, writes John Healey, the shadow defence secretary and Labour MP for Wentworth and Dearne. Such a plan would be the best response to Russia’s latest escalation in rhetoric, and the best way Britain can help ensure Ukraine wins and Putin’s invasion really does end in failure, he writes. This is the best response to Russia’s latest escalation in rhetoric, and the best way we can help ensure Putin’s invasion really does end in failure Ukraine is now adding pressure on Moscow by fighting for territory seen as critical to Russia, the British defence ministry said today. “The battlefield situation remains complex, but Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory Russia considers essential to its war aims,” the MoD said in its latest intelligence update on the war in Ukraine. It added: “In the last three days, Ukrainian forces have secured bridgeheads on the east bank of the Oskil river in Kharkiv oblast. Russia has attempted to integrate the Oskil into a consolidated defensive line following its forces’ withdrawal earlier in the month.” “To the south, in Donetsk oblast, fighting is ongoing as Ukrainian forces assault the town of Lyman, east of the Siverskyy Donets river, which Russia captured in May,” the ministry added. Ukrainian troops continue to advance their military counteroffensive against Russia, claiming this resulted in “losses” among Moscow’s military leadership. A shelling attack by Ukraine wounded a Russian general in the Luhansk region, the Ukrainian general staff said today. “The enemy continues to suffer losses, in particular among the leadership,” it said on Friday. Ukrainian soldiers have repelled Russian attacks in the areas of Kupyansk, Spirne, Mayorsk, Zaitseve, Avdiivka, Novomykhailivka, Opytne and Kamianka settlements, the official added. Four regions in Ukraine occupied by Russian-backed forces will start voting Friday in referendums led by the Kremlin seeking to become a part of Russia. The voting process is spread out over five days and will take place in the absence of independent monitors, amid widespread concern that the result will be rigged in favour of Russia. If Moscow gains these territories — cumulatively amounting to around 15 per cent of Ukraine — by next week, Moscow is expected to annex these areas and intensify its military offensive against Ukraine from there. Ukrainian troops killed 18 Russian troops, officials from the country’s southern operational command said in the latest war update. At least 18 Russian troops were killed, and three Msta-S and Msta-B howitzers, two tanks, and two armored vehicles were destroyed on Thursday, the military unit said, reported The Kyiv Independent. Volodymyr Zelensky has said Vladimir Putin’s decision to announce partial mobilisation in Moscow is a “frank admission” of the Russian army’s failure in its war against Ukraine. “Russia’s decision on mobilisation is a frank admission that their regular army, which has been prepared for decades to take over a foreign country, did not withstand and crumbled,” he said in his nightly address on Thursday. “And now, due to mobilisation, Russia’s war against Ukraine for the majority of Russian citizens is not something on TV or on the Internet, but something that has entered every Russian home,” Mr Zelensky said. In case you missed it: Britons released by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine thanked supporters as they flew back to Britain. 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