Ukraine live briefing: Russia stages annexation referendums, announces exceptions to military call-up

A soldier in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, part of the eastern area of Ukraine that Russia has occupied, casts a vote on joining the Russian Federation on Friday.
A soldier in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, part of the eastern area of Ukraine that Russia has occupied, casts a vote on joining the Russian Federation on Friday. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Moscow staged annexation referendums on Friday in Ukrainian territory under its control, in a dramatic push to consolidate its grip over swaths of the country. Ukraine’s allies condemned the votes as illegal and escalatory.

In the face of backlash, Russia somewhat narrowed the parameters of a mass call-up to swell the ranks of its beleaguered military. Those working in certain roles in information technology, telecommunications, media and finance would be excluded from the push to mobilize as many as 300,000 reservists, according to a statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry. The call-up order has prompted protests and an exodus, with traffic jams forming along some of Russia’s borders, including the Mongolian frontier.

Here’s the latest on the war and its impact across the globe.

What to know about Russia’s plans to stage referendums in Ukraine

Annexation referendums

  • The referendums on the prospect of joining Russia, illegal under international law, are set to last five days in Ukraine’s east and southeast: the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk territories in the east, Kherson in the south and occupied parts of nearby Zaporizhzhia. The move has drawn U.S. and European condemnation.
  • The Kremlin pledged to swiftly accept the regions into Russia and said any Ukrainian attack would then be seen as an attack on Russia. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Moscow would consider Ukrainian attempts to retake the territory “as an attack on its lands in case of a positive decision in the referendums.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared his support for the process, with little doubt that the announced result will overwhelmingly favor becoming part of Russia. When the Kremlin annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after a disputed vote, it claimed that nearly 97 percent backed joining Russia.
  • Kyiv attacked the legitimacy of the referendums as a “propaganda show.”
Mariupol residents began voting in a Kremlin-orchestrated referendum on becoming part of Russia on Sept. 23. (Video: The Washington Post)
  • Moscow-backed authorities assured support for a potential annexation. “We’re coming home,” Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said Friday. He appeared in a video filling out his ballot in the street, surrounded by cameras, before he displayed it for all to see. Russian news agencies said hundreds of polling stations would only open Tuesday, and local authorities said much of the voting would be house-to-house or in “public places.”
  • The Group of Seven — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — released a joint statement condemning “the sham referenda that Russia attempts to use to create a phony pretext for changing the status of Ukrainian sovereign territory,” according to a White House release. President Biden said in a statement that the United States “will work with our allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia.”
  • U.N. Secretary General António Guterres described the referendums as a “violation of the U.N. Charter and international law.”

Voronezh

BELARUS

RUSSIA

Chernihiv

Area held

by Russia-

backed

separatists

before

Feb. 2022

Belgorod

Sumy

Valuyki

Kyiv

Kharkiv

LUHANSK

KHARKIV

Cherkasy

Slovyansk

Luhansk

UKRAINE

Bakhmut

Dnipro

Donetsk

Kirovohrad

DONETSK

Zaporizhzhia

ZAPORIZHZHIA

Rostov-

on-Don

Mariupol

Mykolaiv

Melitopol

KHERSON

MOL.

Kherson

Odessa

RUSSIA

Kerch

CRIMEA

Krasnodar

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

100 MILES

ROM.

Novorossiysk

Sevastopol

Black Sea

Control areas as of Sept. 11

Sources: Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project

Ukrainian reclaimed territory

through counteroffensives

Russian-held

areas

Area held

by Russia-

backed

separatists

before

Feb. 2022

Voronezh

BELARUS

RUSSIA

Chernihiv

Belgorod

Sumy

Kyiv

Kharkiv

Poltava

Cherkasy

Kramatorsk

Dnipro

Uman

Zaporizhzhia

Rostov-

on-Don

Mariupol

Melitopol

Mykolayiv

Kherson

RUSSIA

Odessa

Crimea

Krasnodar

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

Novorossiysk

Sevastopol

100 MILES

Control areas as of Sept. 11

Sources: Institute for the Study of War, AEI’s Critical Threats Project

Ukrainian reclaimed territory

through counteroffensives

Russian-held

areas

Area held

by Russia-

backed

separatists

before

Feb. 2022

RUSSIA

BEL.

Chernihiv

Belgorod

Sumy

Kyiv

Kharkiv

Poltava

Cherkasy

Dnipro

Zaporizhzhia

Rostov-

on-Don

Mariupol

Melitopol

Mykolayiv

Kherson

RUS.

Odessa

Crimea

Sevastopol

Annexed by Russia

in 2014

100 MILES

Black Sea

Control areas as of Sept. 11

Sources: Institute for the Study of War

Other developments

  • Alexander J. Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh, the two Americans freed this week after months of captivity in Russian-occupied Ukraine, arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York just before noon Friday and were met by a State Department representative who whisked them through customs, according to Dianna Shaw, Drueke’s aunt. The two men were photographed smiling upon their arrival, but they have been through an ordeal they have yet to detail in full to their relatives.
  • Finland looks to cut off entry for Russian tourists in the coming days amid elevated border crossings after Putin’s partial mobilization order, according to state broadcaster Yle. Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania closed their borders to most Russian citizens.
  • A team of U.N. excerpts found Friday that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, including “rapes, deportations and torture,” the AP reported.
  • Ukraine said it would revoke the accreditation of Iran’s ambassador for supplying weapons to Russia. In his nightly address, Zelensky said the foreign ministry would also “significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian Embassy.”

Battlefield updates

  • Moscow could use nuclear weapons to defend the regions that join Russia, said former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the country’s Security Council. Washington for months has sent private warnings to Moscow about grave consequences if it used a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, although it was unclear whether any messages were sent in recent days, The Washington Post reported.

Why the world is so worried about Russia’s ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons

  • Several Iranian-made drones struck the port of Odessa on Friday, destroying an administrative building and killing one civilian, according to the Ukrainian military. Writing on Telegram, officials said that Odessa was attacked by “kamikaze drones from the sea,” adding that one Shahed-136 drone had been shot down.
  • A drone had dropped an “exploding device” next to a government building in Melitopol, in southeastern Ukraine, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on Friday. No injuries were reported. RIA did not say who dropped the device, and the information couldn’t be independently verified. But Mayor Ivan Fedorov said on his Telegram channel that a “loud explosion rang out in Melitopol” at 7 a.m., which could be “well felt” by people living in the center of the city. The drone could be seen flying over the city in unverified videos shared on social media.
  • The U.N. nuclear watchdog said “detailed talks” about a safety zone at the Zaporizhzhia plant in Ukraine are underway. The International Atomic Energy Agency said its proposal sought to protect Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which Russian forces control. Fighting nearby has raised fears of a disaster.

From our correspondents

Anger flares as Russia mobilization hits minority regions and protesters: In just two days since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced mobilization to help his ailing war in Ukraine, thousands of men have been chased down by recruiters, in some cases rounded up in the middle of the night, and swiftly loaded onto buses and planes to be sent off for military training and, presumably, deployment to the front lines, Mary Ilyushina reports.

And despite assurances by the authorities of a “partial” mobilization, limited to reservists with prior military experience, the initial haphazard call-up process has sparked fears that Putin is trying to activate far more soldiers than the 300,000 initially stated by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

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