Ukrainian officials say that Russia is using so-called secession referendums in occupied portions of four Ukrainian regions as a pretense to draft Ukrainians into the Russian military.
“The main purpose of the fake referendum is to mobilize our residents and use them as cannon fodder,” Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor-in-exile of Russian-occupied Melitopol, said on Telegram.
Ukrainian officials also say that travel for young men out of occupied Ukraine has become much more difficult since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization. Such travel in Ukraine’s south has been difficult but possible, through arranged corridors.
In recent days, however, CNN understands from Ukrainian government sources that travel to Ukrainian-held territory has become much more difficult, and that those official corridors have now been effectively closed.
Ukraine’s National Resistance Center, a division of the defense ministry, said last week that the Russian military plans to enforce mobilization as soon as the “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation are approved, as is widely expected.
The Ukrainian government says that Russian occupying administrations, together with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), are drawing up lists of thousands of people to be mobilized in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.
In Ukraine’s Luhansk region, which is almost entirely occupied by Russia and Russian-backed forces, Ukrainian officials say that the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic is already implementing widespread conscription.
“Unlike in the Russian Federation where mobilization is partial, in the so-called LPR everyone is taken,” Serhii Hayday, the Ukrainian head of the Luhansk region military administration, said on Telegram.
“In Svatove, for example, call-up orders are handed out to every male aged 18 and over,” Hayday said. “Some individuals, such as lorry drivers, are dispatched to military units immediately, without training, because there are no reinforcements left to send to the front line.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said over the weekend that in occupied Crimea, which was annexed in 2014, Russia is specifically targeting ethnic Tatars, forcing them to flee the peninsula.
“Russia is trying to destroy the gene pool of the Crimean Tatars,” he said. “Evils are taken from the age of 18.”
“They’re forcing people to fight, people from the temporarily occupied territories,” Zelensky told CBS in an interview broadcast on Sunday. “A lot of people will be forced to do this.”
Crimean Tatars – who were deported en masse from the peninsula by Soviet ruler Josef Stalin in 1944 – have faced severe discrimination following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, rights groups say.
Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol urged people in his occupied city to leave for Crimea. He said that travel has been only sporadically possible between Russian-occupied southern Ukraine and Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since it was annexed in 2014.
“They are now being let through, but before departure they provide all personal data, the place of residence of all relatives,” Fedorov said. “We urge our residents to leave through the temporarily occupied Crimea to Georgia or the European Union. We clearly understand that very soon a full-fledged hunt for our men will begin, in order to use them as cannon fodder.”