Occupied Region’s Pro-Moscow Leaders Seek To Join Russia, Zelenskiy Criticizes ‘Collaborators’

Occupied Region's Pro-Moscow Leaders Seek To Join Russia, Zelenskiy Criticizes 'Collaborators'

Live-streamed footage shows people carrying a banner in the colors of the Ukrainian flag as they protest amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Kherson, Ukraine, on March 13, 2022 in this still image from a video of the social networks obtained by REUTERS

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  • Kherson would be the first zone annexed since the Russian incursion
  • Kremlin says residents must decide their own fate
  • The Ukrainian governor says that the population wants a quick return to Ukraine

May 11 (Reuters) – The Russian-occupied Kherson region of Ukraine plans to ask President Vladimir Putin to incorporate it into Russia by the end of 2022, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, citing the civil-military administration there.

Kherson is the first region to be annexed since Moscow began its military campaign in February saying it needed to disarm Ukraine and protect Russian-speakers from “fascists.” That reasoning has been dismissed by Ukraine and the West as a baseless pretext for an imperialist war of aggression.

The Kremlin said it was up to residents living in the region to decide whether they wanted to join Russia.

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But Hennadiy Lahuta, the ousted Ukrainian governor of the Kherson region, told reporters in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro that the population only wanted “a speedy release and a return to the bosom of their homeland, their mother, Ukraine.”

Russia said in April that it had gained full control of the region, which has seen sporadic anti-Russian protests.

Kherson, home to a port city of the same name, provides part of the land link between the Crimean peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, and Russian-backed breakaway areas in eastern Ukraine. read more

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at the time that negotiations with Moscow would be in jeopardy if Russia used “pseudo-referendums” to justify the annexation of the occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

In a late-night video address on Wednesday, Zelenskiy condemned “these fringe people, whom the Russian state has found to act as collaborators.” He said they were making “cosmic stupid” statements.

He added: “But no matter what the occupiers do, it means nothing, they have no chance. I am confident that we will liberate our land and our people.”

‘NO REFERENDUM’

In 2014, a month after occupying Crimea in a lightning invasion, Moscow staged a referendum there – dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine and the West – that overwhelmingly backed Russia’s annexation.

Asked Wednesday whether Kherson would join Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said residents must decide their own fate, but such decisions need a clear legal basis, “as was the case in Crimea.”

However, the RIA news agency quoted Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-controlled military-civilian administration, as telling reporters:

“There will be no referendums because it is of no importance, since the referendum that was carried out absolutely legally in the Republic of Crimea is not accepted by the world community.”

The administration did not immediately return calls from Reuters seeking comment.

In Dnipro, Lahuta said that 300,000 of the region’s million people had left as a result of the Russian takeover.

Ukraine has said that there have been protests in Kherson against the Russian occupation and that a demonstration two weeks ago was dispersed with tear gas.

“After repeated injuries of people in Kherson, in Nova Kakhovka… fewer and fewer people started to protest because the enemy started to act more and more harshly, started arresting people,” Lahuta said.

Russia has already introduced the ruble as currency in the Kherson region, to replace the Ukrainian hryvnia.

TASS quoted the Russian-controlled administration as saying pension agencies and a banking system would be created from scratch for the region, and branches of a Russian bank could open there before the end of May.

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Information from Reuters; Edited by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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