Russia starts referendums to join Russian Federation in occupied areas of Ukraine.

Russia launched referendums in four occupied areas of Ukraine on Friday (September 23) aimed at annexing the areas, which cover about 15% of Ukrainian territory.

The West says the move is a gross violation of international law that significantly escalates the war.

After nearly seven months of war, and a critical battlefield defeat in northeastern Ukraine earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin signalled he will annexe the regions if the people in the Russian-controlled areas vote to join Russia.

By incorporating the areas into Russia, Moscow could portray attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, uploaded this video on messaging app Telegram after casting his ballot:

"The thrill and the assurance that what we have been fighting for, for so long, is coming true. We're returning home, we're returning to mighty Russia."

The votes in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia began on Friday and will end on Tuesday, with results expected soon afterwards.

Outcomes that support joining Russia are almost certain.

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