The right to hold free elections is one of the fundamentals of a democratic society, but it’s a freedom which has been outlawed in Nazi-controlled Ukraine where eleven opposition parties have been banned. In August, the Kiev regime warned that anyone who promotes or organizes referendums faces a staggering fifteen years behind bars.
But even such dire warnings could not stop citizens of the Kherson and Zaporozhe regions nor those from the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, who began voting in earnest Friday on whether or not to become republics of the Russian Federation.
Sample Ballot. “Are you in favor of the Donetsk People’s Republic becoming part of the Russian Federation as a subordinate republic of the Russian Federation? Yes/No” Photo: RIA Novosti
According to Canadian correspondent Eva K. Bartlett, who was in Kalinskiy district when the voting started, the process is simple and straight-forward. People show their ID, write their home address, get a ballot and vote “yes” or “no.”
“Of course, western pundits have already decided this is a sham referendum,” Eva notes on her Telegram channel, “but the people here don’t care what the West says. The West has been arming Ukraine, which is raining bombs down on Donetsk, killing 6 people yesterday, 16 people Monday, 4 people Saturday…and thousands over the past 8 years. Enough is enough, the people are voting and don’t be surprised if the results are for the DPR to join Russia.”
As a correspondent working in the Donbass region, Eva has already seen enough death and destruction to last a lifetime, and this month has been especially brutal, as Ukrainian military forces have been shelling civilian areas with long-range artillery supplied by the US and NATO allies. You can see just some of the mass murder here, but I must warn you that these photos are uncensored and extremely graphic. There are bodies, pieces of bodies, and blood everywhere.
So it is no shock to anyone who has seen this terrifying slaughter, why the majority of people living in the eastern part of Ukraine may no longer want to be part of a country which has targeted them for oblivion.
Voting in Kalinskiy district. Video courtesy Eva K. Bartlett
But like everything in the Donbass these days, voting is dangerous. Special precautions have to be taken so that people can vote despite intermittent bombardment by Ukrainian troops and neo-Nazi militias. Many residents volunteer to go door to door, delivering ballots to their neighbors who will vote from home rather than risk traveling to the center of the city where bombs are more likely to fall.
A woman delivers ballots to neighbors in Kirovsky district. Photo: Eva K. Bartlett
The voting will go on for five days, from September 23rd until September 27th, to help ensure the safety of the people living in the war-torn regions where the referendum is taking place. Because of the danger of shelling, voting is not being held at polling stations but in adjacent areas and in people’s homes. However, on the final day, the polling stations will be open.
The day before the referendum began, Eva talked with a woman at a market in Donetsk. The woman was from Makeevka, an area which has been bombarded by shells from Ukraine’s nationalist militias and fighting forces, who show no mercy when it comes to civilians.
Woman in Donetsk talks about the referendum. Video courtesy Eva K. Bartlett
“The choice is up to the people,” the woman said. Her name is withheld, common practice in eastern Ukraine where residents have been punished for having “pro-Russian” views. “If Russia protects us, we are ready to vote for it.”
She worries about her tiny grandson, only seven months old. And about her family and those who are unable to flee to safer places.
“Many do not know how we live here. It’s very, very scary,” she continues, referring to people in countries influenced by western media, which has been mostly silent about the suffering of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, referring constantly to Russia’s Special Military Operation as “unprovoked.”
As the Nazi propagandist Goebbels (a man much-adored by the nationalists in Kiev) famously stated: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
But none who know Ukraine’s history of Nazi collaboration doubt the real reason Russia crossed its borders into the Donbass.
Donetsk resident Russell Bentley has no doubt that the majority of people will vote to join Russia. An American ex-pat who has served alongside soldiers from the Donetsk People’s Republic, Russell is more concerned that the referendum might divert the Russian Federation from its originally-stated goals.
“The concern is that the referendums in the liberated territories may be used as an excuse to scale back the original goal of the operation — ‘the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine,’ — to ‘protecting the liberated territories,’ which will neither ensure their security or that of Russia,” Russell wrote. “Anything less than Russia’s full military control of Kiev and everything east of a line from Kiev down to the Moldovan border is a military and political failure that threatens Russia’s very existence. We are fighting the Nazis of the 21st century, war criminals and terrorists.”
Russell Bentley’s full statement on the referendum to join Russia.
“The people of the Donbass Republics were forced into a military response in order to defend themselves against terrorist attacks by the Ukrainian military and the Kiev regime 8 years ago,” Russell continues. “The Russian government, after exhausting every diplomatic option, was forced into a military response to prevent genocide of Russian people in Donbass. A military response has been taken, and must be adequately maintained until full victory is achieved, because in this war, just as in the Great Patriotic War, we have only 2 choices — Victory or Death.”
Russell supports the referendum, he says, “to the extent that the referendum promotes and enables the full victory over Nazism in Ukraine.”
“We are tired of fighting this. Tired. We’re scared. We’re really scared,” the woman at the marketplace says, her eyes filling with tears. Like most of her neighbors, she speaks Russian, a language de-facto outlawed by the nationalists of Ukraine. Just one of many reasons that she, her family and friends, have been targeted by the nationalists. “These are not people. They pit brothers against brothers, they pit their relatives and loved ones against each other. How is it possible to live in one city and bomb another? It is impossible. It’s unreal! We are peaceful people. We are all alive. You can’t just do that!”
Many Russian-speakers look forward to unification with the Russian Federation. It isn’t just that they want the military security that Russia is already providing. It’s because they miss their family. Ukraine, they feel, has not treated them as family but as unwanted bastards, or as outlanders, despite the fact that many have lived in the region for generations. Now, they just want to live in peace.
In a Friday address, the head of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, said, “We have been waiting for this moment for more than 8 years! We waited through anxious nights and busy weekdays, at the battlefront and from behind lines. We waited as people wait for their return to the family after many years of separation.”
DPR Head Denis Pushilin speaks about referendum, Video courtesy Denis Pushilin
“Holding a referendum is a historic milestone,” Pushilin continues. “Not only because we are confident in its positive result, but because it is the end of the difficult road we have traveled together.”
He refers to the eight-year struggle of the people in the Donbass, who formed their own independent states, which were finally recognized as sovereign republics by the Russian Federation and its allies in February of this year. The third step of the journey, he says, is joining Russia. To him, it is a foregone conclusion that the voters of DPR will follow the voters of Crimea in their desire to reunite with the rodina — the motherland.
“We are returning home ,” he says. “This is the main reason for all our deeds and battles, the innermost desire, and at the same time the absolute certainty that the day will come when we will become Russia.”
This desire to be one with Russia may sound strange to western ears. Let me put it this way:
For hundreds of years, Ukraine was a region, not a country. Russians and Ukrainians are not truly separate ethnicities. Though many Ukrainian nationalists insist that they are descended from Rurik Vikings and are not related to the “Moskals,” which is what they call Russians, the truth is that both peoples have occupied the region for hundreds of years, and they share the same ancestors. Their DNA is the same Eastern Slavic DNA. The same blood runs through their veins. Many Russians have family in Ukraine and vice-versa.
The longing to return to Russia is a literal longing for family, and an end to the ostracization and persecution of the excruciating, nightmarish years which pushed many beyond what they can bear.
“I want there to be peace in the world. I want everything to be good and beautiful,” the woman at the marketplace says, tears now running down her cheeks.
“We have come a long and dangerous way home,” Pushilin says, concluding his address. “Each of your votes will confirm the truth: Donbass is Russia.”
Author’s note: You can keep up to date with news of the referendum on this Telegram channel, but all updates are in Russian, so you may need a translation app.
Deborah Armstrong currently writes about geopolitics with an emphasis on Russia. She previously worked in local TV news in the United States where she won two regional Emmy Awards. In the early 1990’s, Deborah lived in the Soviet Union during its final days and worked as a television consultant at Leningrad Television.