Ukrainians flee from Russian annexation – while they still can

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ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine, Sept. 28 (Reuters) – “It’s funny. No one voted, but the results are in,” laughed Lyubomir Boyko, 43, of Golo Pristan, a village in the Russian-occupied Kherson province, as he waited on Wednesday outside a Country Relief Office with his family in a refugee reception center.

As Russia prepares to annex a strip of Ukrainian territory the size of Portugal after organizing what it calls referendums in four provinces, hundreds of Ukrainians escaped through the last Russian checkpoint. Many said they had fled while there was still time.

“A lot of people just leave everything behind. There are places that are completely deserted,” Boyko says. “Everyone wants to be in Ukraine and that’s why everyone is leaving. There is a lawless place there. Whole villages are leaving.”

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He, his wife and their two children had arrived at the aid center in the parking lot of a hardware store in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhya, after waiting two days before Russian troops abruptly let them out.

Those fleeing Russian territory say the so-called referendum was carried out by men with guns who forced people to vote in the streets.

“They can announce anything they want. Nobody voted in the referendum, except a few people who changed sides. They went from house to house, but nobody came out,” Boyko said.

For now, Russian forces have allowed a number of people from the occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhya provinces to escape through one checkpoint. No one knows how long the route will remain open.

The biggest fear is that middle-aged men will be pressured by Russian troops once Moscow declares the area to be Russia. Boyko said he didn’t know if conscription men could leave.

“Russian soldiers asked us, ‘Why are you fleeing Russia,'” said Tatiyana Gorobets, a 46-year-old nurse from Velyka Lepytykha, Kherson province, who replied that she and her husband were going to visit their two children they had sent. were brought to safety in Lviv two months ago. “You can’t say anything else.”

CLOSE DOORS

A view shows the Russian flag flying in the square during a five-day referendum on the secession of the Zaporizhzhya region from Ukraine and joining Russia, in the Russian-controlled city of Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhya region, Ukraine, Sept. 26, 2022. REUTERS/ Alexander Ermochenko

The couple gathered their clothes, left their home and left their town early on Sunday. Russian troops initially blocked them from crossing but released them after three nights, they said.

“We left because we could feel the pressure, the doors were closing and we wouldn’t be able to leave,” said shopkeeper Lyudmila Sapronov, 48, whose family traveled in a second car with the Gorobets family.

Now that public schools have been ordered to switch to the Russian curriculum and lessons in Russian next month, she did not want her 13-year-old son Bogdan to return to the local school.

“You can imagine how I feel now,” she continued with tears in her eyes. “As soon as we passed the checkpoint, the first photo I took was of the Ukrainian flag. I’m happy.”

An air raid siren sounded and a downpour drenched the parking lot of the Epicenter hardware store, where the shelter is housed in plastic canopies. A US-based charity, World Central Kitchen, provided hot meals in a tent.

“The line of vehicles was so long you couldn’t see the end of it,” said another man, Andriy, 37, who refused to give his last name as he stood by the yellow, mud-spattered minibus in which he arrived with his wife. . , two children and parents.

“Seventy percent of the people are leaving because of the referendum. There was no light, no gas and no work and all of a sudden you get the referendum,” said the farm worker from Beryslav, Kherson province. “It’s complete nonsense. I don’t know a single person among those I know who voted.”

He said he saw passers-by being forced to their knees to fill out ballot papers at an intersection in Bereslav.

Russia says voting is voluntary and turnout is high. Pro-Russian officials have published what they describe as results showing overwhelming support for annexation. Kiev and Western countries are calling the exercise a complete sham, intended to justify the annexation of forcibly seized territory.

“If I came to your house and you said, ‘Now this place is mine,’ what would you do?” agreed with Andriy’s 60-year-old father Viktor.

“Will you hand it over? No, you’d chase them away with a pitchfork. The Russians are morally ugly. This is all awash in blood.”

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Reporting by Jonathan Landay, Editing by Peter Graff, Angus MacSwan, Alexandra Hudson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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