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Zelensky believes that Putin’s nuclear threats “may be a reality”

Russia intends to recruit Ukrainians in the occupied territories, according to Ukrainian officials

A group of people vote at a hospital in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on September 24. Referendums on joining Russia are illegal under international law and are branded a “farce” by Western and Kyiv governments. (Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Ukrainian officials say Russia is using so-called secession referendums in occupied parts of four Ukrainian regions as a pretext to recruit Ukrainians into the Russian military.

“The main goal of the fake referendum is to mobilize our residents and use them as cannon fodder,” Ivan Fedorov, the exiled Ukrainian mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol, said on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials also say that youth travel outside occupied Ukraine has become much more difficult since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization. These trips in southern Ukraine have been difficult but possible, through arranged corridors.

However, in recent days, CNN understands that Ukrainian government sources have said that travel to Ukrainian-controlled territory has become much more difficult, and that those official corridors have been closed.

Ukraine’s National Resistance Center, a division of the Defense Ministry, said last week that the Russian military plans to impose mobilization as soon as “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation are approved, as is widely expected.

“It is clear that after the referendum the enemy will announce the mobilization also in the occupied lands because it needs human resources,” the Resistance Center said in a statement.

The Ukrainian government claims that the Russian occupying administrations, together with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), are drawing up lists of thousands of people to be mobilized in the Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson.

In Ukraine’s Luhansk region, almost entirely occupied by Russia and Russian-backed forces, Ukrainian officials say the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic is already engaging in widespread conscription.

“Unlike what happens in the Russian Federation, where the mobilization is partial, in the so-called RPL everyone is caught,” the Ukrainian head of the military administration of the Luhansk region, Serhii Hayday, said on Telegram.

“In Svatove, for example, call-up orders are handed out to all males over the age of 18,” Hayday said. “Some individuals, like truck drivers, are sent to military units immediately, without training, because there are no reinforcements left to send to the front lines.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said over the weekend that in occupied Crimea, 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. “They take men from 18 years old.”

“They are forcing people to fight, people from the temporarily occupied territories,” Zelensky told CBS in an interview broadcast Sunday. “A lot of people will be forced to do it.”

Crimean Tatars — who were deported en masse from the peninsula by Soviet ruler Josef Stalin in 1944 — have faced severe discrimination following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, rights groups say.

Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, urged the inhabitants of his occupied city to leave for Crimea. He said travel has only been possible sporadically between Russian-occupied southern Ukraine and Crimea, occupied by Russia since its annexation in 2014.

“Now they are 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 temporarily occupied Crimea to Georgia or the European Union. We clearly understand that a full-fledged hunt for our men, to use them as cannon fodder, will begin very soon.”

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