Ukraine says recaptured territory in east, as annexation polls open

KYIV – Kyiv said on Friday its forces had recaptured a village in the eastern Donetsk region and territory around another war-scarred town there, as Moscow-proxies held votes on annexation by Russia.

“The Ukrainian army has retaken the village of Yatskivka in the Donetsk region,” a senior army official told reporters, adding that Kyiv’s forces had “also regained control over positions to the south of Bakhmut”, also in Donetsk, where voting was underway on Friday in Russian-controlled territory.

Russia began the referendums on Friday, aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine.

The move raises the stakes of the seven-month-old war in what Kyiv called a coercive sham that saw residents threatened with punishment if they did not vote.

The votes on whether the regions should become part of Russia began after Ukraine earlier this month recaptured large swathes of north-eastern territory in a counteroffensive against the invasion that began on Feb 24.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin also announcing a military draft this week to enlist 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine, the Kremlin appears to be trying to regain the upper hand in the grinding conflict.

And by incorporating the four areas into Russia, Moscow could portray attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself, a warning to Kyiv and Western supporters.

Putin on Wednesday said Russia would “use all the means at our disposal” to protect itself, an allusion to nuclear weapons.

The war has already killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted millions and pummelled the global economy.

The referendums had been discussed for months by Moscow-installed authorities in the four regions – in Ukraine’s east and south-east – but Kyiv’s recent battlefield victories prompted a scramble to schedule them.

Voting in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, representing about 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory, is due to run from Friday to Tuesday.

Polling stations were also set up in Moscow, for residents of those regions now living in Russia.