Members of an electoral commission wait for voters at a polling station in the Donetsk region during a referendum on the territory joining the Russian federation, which has been dismissed by Ukraine, Western governments, and the United Nations because the vote is illegal under international law.
Russia-backed officials in four Ukrainian regions partially controlled by Moscow have announced the final results of so-called referendums on joining the Russian Federation, saying voters have "overwhelmingly" supported the annexation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the polls and the results "a farce" orchestrated under "the muzzle of a gun," while U.S. officials said Washington was preparing a new round of sanctions against Russia should it annex Ukrainian territory. The European Union slammed the "falsified outcome" of the so-called referendum.
Votes took place between September 23 and September 27 in the parts of Zaporizhzhya, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kherson that are under Moscow's military occupation. These areas account for about 15 percent of Ukraine's territory.
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The move has been dismissed by Ukraine, Western governments, and the United Nations because the vote is illegal under international law.
The sham referendum was held amid claims by some local officials that voters have been threatened and coerced into voting. Election officials brought ballot boxes house-to-house in many cases accompanied by armed Russian forces.
In eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, 99.23 percent of those who came to the polls voted for its entry into Russia, prompting Moscow-backed separatist leader Denis Pushilin to hail the result as "colossal."
In another eastern region, Luhansk, Russia-appointed election officials said the final result was 98.42 percent in favor of the annexation
The polling authority in Zaporizhzhya said 93.11 percent of the ballots cast were in support of the annexation while in Kherson, 87.05 of those who voted were allegedly in favor of the annexation.
Valentina Matviyenko, the chairperson of the Russian parliament's upper house, said President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to address the assembly about the referendums on September 30 and said lawmakers could consider annexation legislation on October 4.
In his nightly video address on September 27, Zelenskiy said that "the figures of the alleged results of the pseudo-referendum were drawn in advance."
He said every country in the world must now provide a clear signal against Russian annexation.
"In front of the eyes of the whole world, Russia is conducting an outright farce called a 'referendum' on the occupied territory of Ukraine," he said.
"People are forced to fill out some papers for a TV picture under the muzzles of machine guns."
In a video message earlier to the United Nations, Zelenskiy said that Ukraine would not be able to negotiate with Russia after the votes.
Kyiv and its allies have denounced the votes as a "sham" and say they would never recognize the results of balloting that runs counter to the UN Charter and international law.
On September 28, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell slammed the "illegal" annexation votes and their "falsified" results.
"EU denounces holding of illegal 'referenda' and their falsified outcome," Borrell said on Twitter .
"This is another violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, amidst systematic abuses of human rights," he said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also called the Moscow-organized votes a "sham" and a "blatant violation of international law."
Stoltenberg said on Twitter that he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on September 27 "and made it clear that NATO Allies were unwavering in our support for Ukraine's sovereignty and right to self-defense."
U.S. President Joe Biden has previously said the polls were a "sham" and nothing but a "false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged the European Union on September 27 to impose further economic sanctions on Russia to punish it for the votes and said the moves by Moscow would not change Ukraine's actions on the battlefield.
Kuleba, speaking after talks in Kyiv with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, said that personal sanctions would not suffice as a punishment for the referendums, which Putin on September 27 claimed were meant to "save people" in those regions.
Colonna called the polls a "masquerade" that would trigger further Western sanctions.
Voting was also held in Russia because thousands of residents of the areas that are controlled by Russian forces in Ukraine fled after the war started. The vote count there also showed huge majorities in favor of joining Russia, according to RIA Novosti.
Observers viewed the outcome of the ballot as a foregone conclusion that follows the same pattern that Moscow applied in 2014 to annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in the wake of huge pro-Western street demonstrations that saw the country's Kremlin-friendly president ousted.
The United States will introduce a resolution at the UN Security Council calling on member states not to recognize any change to Ukraine and obligating Russia to withdraw its troops, U.S. envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.