The referendums, denounced as a Moscow-led “sham” by the world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly this week, will run from today to Tuesday, following which the Kremlin is expected to announce the annexation of the territories into the Russian federation.
Analysts fear Russia will then use this to justify an escalation in its military offensive against Ukraine.
One day after Vladimir Putin announced the partial military mobilisation of men in Russia’s reserve forces, some 10,000 volunteers have reportedly enlisted without even waiting for their call-up papers, the Russian General Staff said.
But there are also reports of attempts to flee a potential call-up, with prices for one-way flights out of Moscow to the nearest foreign locations rising above $5,000 (£4,440), with most air tickets sold out completely.
And late on Thursday, the Russian foreign minister walked out of the UN Security Council after accusing Ukraine of Russophobia and neo-Nazism.
Russian foreign minister claims Ukraine ‘a totalitarian Nazi-like state’
Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons in annexed regions, says Medvedev
More than 1,300 arrests at Russian anti-mobilisation protests
Zelensky lays down red lines for peace deal with Russia
Situation at Finnish border ‘intensified during the night’, official says
EU leaders to press more sanctions on Russia, send arms to Ukraine
Referendum begins in Ukraine’s separatist regions today
06:02 , Arpan Rai
Four regions in Ukraine occupied by Russian-backed forces will start voting Friday in referendums led by the Kremlin seeking to become a part of Russia.
The voting process is spread out over five days and will take place in the absence of independent monitors, amid widespread concern that the result will be rigged in favour of Russia.
If Moscow gains these territories — cumulatively amounting to around 15 per cent of Ukraine — by next week, Moscow is expected to annex these areas and intensify its military offensive against Ukraine from there.
Volodymyr Zelensky has called the referendums “noise” to distract the public.
18 Russian soldiers killed, howitzers and tanks destroyed – Ukraine military
04:46 , Arpan Rai
Ukrainian troops killed 18 Russian troops, officials from the country’s southern operational command said in the latest war update.
At least 18 Russian troops were killed, and three Msta-S and Msta-B howitzers, two tanks, and two armored vehicles were destroyed on Thursday, the military unit said, reported The Kyiv Independent.
Russia’s mobilisation move shows its regular army crumbled – Zelensky
04:22 , Arpan Rai
Volodymyr Zelensky has said Vladimir Putin’s decision to announce partial mobilisation in Moscow is a “frank admission” of the Russian army’s failure in its war against Ukraine.
“Russia’s decision on mobilisation is a frank admission that their regular army, which has been prepared for decades to take over a foreign country, did not withstand and crumbled,” he said in his nightly address on Thursday.
The war has swept into every Russian’s home, he added.
“And now, due to mobilisation, Russia’s war against Ukraine for the majority of Russian citizens is not something on TV or on the Internet, but something that has entered every Russian home,” Mr Zelensky said.
Britons home with families after ‘traumatic experience’
03:10 , Jane Dalton
In case you missed it: Britons released by Russian-backed forces in Ukraine thanked supporters as they flew back to Britain. All five have now all returned home:
Tearful farewells for Russian reservists and families
02:20 , Jane Dalton
Families have bid a tearful farewell to men leaving from military mobilisation centres in Russia.Video footage from the eastern Siberian city of Neryungri showed men emerging from a stadium. Before boarding buses, they hugged family members waiting outside, many crying and some covering their mouths with their hands in grief.
A man held a child up to the window of one bus for a last look.In Moscow, women hugged, cried and made the sign of the cross on men at another mobilisation point.
A 25-year-old who gave only his first name, Dmitry, received a hug from his father, who told him “Be careful,” as they parted.Dmitry told Russian media company Ostorozhno Novosti he did not expect to be called up and shipped out so quickly, especially since he still is a student.“No one told me anything in the morning. They gave me the draft notice that I should come here at 3 pm. We waited 1.5 hours, then the enlistment officer came and said that we are leaving now,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh great!’ I went outside and started calling my parents, brother, all friends of mine to tell that they take me.”
A video showing mobilised Russian men leaving to go and fight in the war. You can hear a child crying “Daddy, goodbye, please come back!” I’ve spoken to several locals, including one who was there, the video is genuine. pic.twitter.com/9McubXicjK
— Will Vernon (@BBCWillVernon) September 22, 2022
How Western allies helped secure Britons’ release
01:30 , Jane Dalton
Months of secret international negotiations lay behind the release of captured British and Ukrainian fighters.
Also released were more than 200 fighters from the Azov Battalion.
In return, Moscow received 55 prisoners, including Vladimir Putin’s friend Viktor Medvedchuk, writes Kim Sengupta:
Why Moscow is calling referendums
Friday 23 September 2022 00:40 , Jane Dalton
Four occupied regions in Ukraine are set to start voting Friday in Kremlin-engineered referendums on whether to become part of Russia. Here’s why:
Tailbacks at border crossings amid ‘panic’ for tickets
Thursday 22 September 2022 23:50 , Jane Dalton
Long tailbacks have formed at border crossings from Russia into Georgia as Russian men continued to try to escape the country.
One news site in Russian gave a list of “where to run away right now from Russia”.
A Russian man, who gave his name only as Vasily, travelled to Istanbul, Turkey, with his wife, teenage daughter and six suitcases.
“The mobilisation was inevitable because there was a shortage of human resources. I am not worried because I’m already 59 years old and my son lives abroad,” he said.
A lorry driver who crossed the Russian-Kazakh border on Thursday said he saw unusually heavy traffic from the Russian side.
A tourism industry source said there was desperation as people sought to find air tickets out of Russia.
“This is panic demand from people who are afraid they won’t be able to leave the country later – people are buying tickets not caring where they fly to,” the source said.
Exodus reports exaggerated, Russia insists
Thursday 22 September 2022 23:00 , Jane Dalton
Russia says reports of a mass exodus from the country are exaggerated.
Dmitri Peskov, President Putin’s press secretary, said: “The information about the hype at airports and so on is very much exaggerated … There is a lot of fake information about this. We need to be very careful about this so as not to become a victim of false information on this matter.”
Russian news agencies reported that 10,000 people had volunteered to fight even before their call-up papers had arrived, citing the Russian General Staff.
President Putin’s defence minister says the reserve mobilisation is intended to enlist about 300,000 men.
Anti-war protests in 38 Russian cities led to more than 1,300 arrests on Wednesday, a monitoring group said.
Some of the detainees had been ordered to report to enlistment offices on Thursday, the first full day of conscription, independent news outlets said. More rallies are planned for the weekend.
UN chief warns of ‘endless’ horror and bloodshed
Thursday 22 September 2022 22:10 , Jane Dalton
The UN secretary-general has warned that the latest developments in the war in Ukraine are a step closer to an “endless cycle of horror and bloodshed”.
Antonio Guterres branded Russia’s nuclear threats against the West “totally unacceptable” during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Watch here:
Plane tickets out of Moscow sell out even at record prices
Thursday 22 September 2022 21:20 , Jane Dalton
Prices of one-way air tickets from Moscow have rocketed as Russian men continued to head to the country’s borders after Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation.
Plane tickets out of the capital to the nearest foreign locations soared above $5,000 (£4,440), with most airline seats sold out completely for the coming days.
Traffic at frontier crossings with Finland also continued to surge, and social media groups popped up with advice on how to get out of Russia.
“War is horrible,” Sergei, a Russian who declined to give his surname, told Reuters as he arrived in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. “It’s okay to be afraid of war and of death and such things.”
One Russian man who gave his name as Alex said he had left Russia partly due to the mobilisation.
“The partial mobilisation is one of the reasons why I am here,” he said. “A very poor step it seems to be, and it can lead to lots of problems to lots of Russians.”
He said he felt not many Russians would want to be sent to fight.
Released hostage ‘in good spirits after harrowing time’
Thursday 22 September 2022 20:30 , Jane Dalton
The family of Shaun Pinner, one of five Britons captured in Ukraine by pro-Russian forces who have returned to the UK, said it has been a harrowing time for him.
In a statement released by the Foreign Office, the family said: “We would like to thank everybody involved in Shaun‘s release, especially all at the Foreign Office, Liz Truss and her team, Boris Johnson and President Zelensky.
“Shaun would also like to thank the hospitality of the Saudi Government and Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud who also assisted in the negotiations for his freedom.
“It’s a very emotional time as you can expect and we are unable to currently discuss so early in his release any details fully. It’s been a harrowing time for Shaun and our family which has now had such a happy resolution.
“Shaun is in good spirits and still has his sense of humour intact. He is looking forward to steak and a glass of red wine tonight.
“We are now enjoying some family time and would appreciate the privacy at this moment.”
At least seven people reportedly killed in missile strikes
Thursday 22 September 2022 19:45 , Jane Dalton
Russian and Ukrainian forces have exchanged missile and artillery barrages as both sides refused to concede ground.
Russian missile strikes in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia left one person dead and five wounded, Ukrainian officials said.
Officials in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk said Ukrainian shelling killed at least six people.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy of the Ukrainian president’s office, said a hotel in Zaporizhzhia was hit and rescuers were trying to free people trapped in rubble.
The governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, Oleksandr Starukh, said Russian forces targeted infrastructure and damaged apartment buildings.
Vladimir Putin has begun calling up reserve troops to supplement his forces.
Russia ‘could draft up to one million soldiers’
Thursday 22 September 2022 19:00 , Jane Dalton
Moscow is looking to mobilise up to one million reservists for the war, not 300,000, according to Russian media reports.
A secret clause in Vladimir Putin’s “partial” mobilisation decree permits the Kremlin to draft far more soldiers than was announced, a source said:
Cleverly calls on nations to reject Putin’s ‘sham’ referenda
Thursday 22 September 2022 18:30 , Jane Dalton
James Cleverly called on countries to reject the “charade” of referenda he said Vladimir Putin will use to annex swaths of Ukrainian territory and further escalate his aggression.
He told the Security Council: “Today I have listened to further instalments of Russia’s catalogues of distortions, dishonesty and disinformation.
“He’s left the chamber. I’m not surprised. I don’t think Mr Lavrov wants to hear the collective condemnation of this council.”
Mr Cleverly argued that Moscow planned to fix the results of referenda on becoming parts of Russia due to be held in Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.
He said: “We have information which means that we know that Russia is about to hold sham referenda on sovereign Ukrainian territory with no basis in law under the threat of violence after mass displacements of people in areas that voted overwhelmingly for Ukrainian independence.
“We know what Vladimir Putin is doing. He is planning to fabricate the outcome of those referenda, he is planning to use that to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory, and he is planning to use it as a further pretext to escalate his aggression.
“We call on all countries to reject this charade and to refuse to recognise any results.”
Russia is outnumbered on the Security Council, but any meaningful action on Ukraine by the 15-member body has been hampered because it is a veto-wielding permanent member.
Thursday 22 September 2022 18:00 , Jane Dalton
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says the “devastating consequences” of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are becoming clearer by the day.
“Every day the devastating consequences of Russia’s invasion become more clear,” he told a special foreign minister-level meeting of the UN Security Council.
“We see the mounting evidence of Russian atrocities against civilians, including indiscriminate shelling and targeted attacks on over 200 medical facilities and 40 educational institutions and horrific acts of sexual violence,” he said.
He said in parts of Ukraine under Russian control, civilians are subject to torture, arbitrary detention and forced deportation to Russia.
Blinken calls on countries to tell Russia to end nuclear threats
Thursday 22 September 2022 17:25 , Jane Dalton
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on every UN Security Council member to “send a clear message” to Russia that it must stop its nuclear threats in the war in Ukraine.
Mr Blinken condemned Russia’s invasion and pressed other countries to join in Washington’s forceful condemnations of the conflict.
He listed atrocities he said were committed by Russia — and suggested that more could come.
“Every council member should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately,” he said.
The Security Council has held dozens of contentious meetings on Ukraine since the war began in February, but today’s meeting had special stature: It was held during the annual UN General Assembly gathering of world leaders and brought multiple foreign ministers to the table.
Lavrov claims Russian culture victim of Ukrainian attacks
Thursday 22 September 2022 16:47 , Jane Dalton
Russian books are being destroyed in Ukraine and Russian is being removed from the school curriculum, the Russian foreign minister has claimed.
Russo-phobic statements have gone unpunished, Sergei Lavrov told the UN Security Council.
Ukraine is strengthening its crackdown on dissidents and Russian TV channels have been closed, he said.
“We have no doubt Ukraine has become a totalitarian Nazi-like state,” claimed Mr Lavrov, in a rambling speech that touched on “neo-Nazi formations” and slated the West for providing equipment to Kyiv. It was “overt racism”, he claimed.
And there were no military targets in Donetsk, but peaceful citizens had been targeted by Ukrainian shelling.
Voices | Britain needs a strategy for standing with Ukraine – for as long as it takes
Thursday 22 September 2022 16:07 , Andy Gregory
Writing in The Independent, Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey warns that Vladimir Putin’s announcements yesterday “show he believes he can still bully the West into accepting the long-term Russian retention of illegally-occupied Ukrainian territory”.
He writes: “Our Western leadership challenge is to demonstrate we will stand with Ukraine for the long-term and we will face down such intimidation.”
“ … A long-term strategy will reassure Ukrainians and send an unequivocal message to Putin that Britain will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to see off Russian aggression. This is the best response to Russia’s latest escalation in rhetoric, and the best way we can help ensure Ukraine wins and Putin’s invasion really does end in failure.”
You can read his thinking in full here:
Watch: Liz Truss tells UN Putin is ‘trying to justify his catastrophic failures’
Thursday 22 September 2022 15:51 , Andy Gregory
Liz Truss has pledged that the UK will continue to support Ukraine during a speech at the UN general assembly, warning that “we cannot let up on dealing with the crisis”.
“No one is threatening Russia, yet as we meet here this evening, in Ukraine barbarous weapons are being used to kill and maim people,” the prime minister said. “Rape is being used as an instrument of war and families are being torn apart.
“And this morning we have seen Putin trying to justify his catastrophic failures.”
Putin’s ‘sabre-rattling’ designed to ‘deter West from supporting Ukraine’
Thursday 22 September 2022 15:28 , Andy Gregory
Pressed in the Commons about Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats, UK defence minister James Heappey described it as the “act of a desperate man who knows this is not going his way”.
Asked if the UK believes Mr Putin is bluffing, the minister said: “The government’s exact intelligence assessment is not something to be shared in the House.”
But he added: “We believe that it is sabre-rattling and we believe it is designed to try and put a wedge amongst the cohesion of the Western alliance and to deter us from supporting Ukraine at the exact moment Ukrainian troops seem to have the upper hand.”
Questioned about Nato’s response if Russia does use one of its weapons, Mr Heappey said: “I’m not going to discuss nuclear doctrine at the despatch box.”
Estimated 25,000 Russians killed in Putin’s war, UK defence minister says
Thursday 22 September 2022 15:12 , Andy Gregory
The UK believes that 25,000 Russians have been killed in Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Speaking in the Commons earlier, defence minister James Heappey told MPs that Russia “lacks sufficient manpower in the field to achieve its objectives”, adding: “Not only do Russian casualties continue to climb, with an estimated 25,000 Russian dead, but tens of thousands have been injured and tens of thousands more have already deserted.
“Russia’s war machine is now severely depleted with more than 3,000 armoured and protected vehicles destroyed, more than 400 artillery pieces decimated and scores of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and UAVs downed.
“Seven months into this conflict, Russia lacks sufficient manpower in the field to achieve any of its objectives and the mood of Moscow is changing quickly.”
Analysis | How Western allies helped secure release of Britons captured in Ukraine
Thursday 22 September 2022 15:07 , Andy Gregory
Months of secret international negotiations lay behind the release of captured British and Ukrainian fighters this week, the largest prisoner swap of the war so far.
A Western official told The Independent that it “became very clear that the Russians were very keen to get Medvedchuk as part of any agreement, they were pretty adamant”, adding: “It seemed Putin felt he had a duty to get him out.
“There was a lot of discussion in Kyiv about this. They obviously saw him as a major bargaining tool.”
Our world affairs editor Kim Sengupta has the full report here:
Putin’s dramatic moves ‘spur’ Germany to continue supporting Ukraine
Thursday 22 September 2022 14:04 , Andy Gregory
Russia’s partial mobilisation and the planned referenda in occupied parts of Ukraine will not dampen Germany’s military backing for Kyiv, the country’s defence minister has said.
“Rather, this reaction from Putin to Ukraine’s successes spurs us on to continue to support Ukraine and send this clear signal,” Christine Lambrecht said in Berlin following a meeting with her French counterpart.
Teenager among six killed in strike on Donetsk market
Thursday 22 September 2022 13:55 , Andy Gregory
A teenager was among at least six civilians killed in a missile strike on the centre of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Russian-backed authorities have alleged.
Both sides have blamed each other for the strike on a covered market in the centre of the regional capital of Donetsk, which is about to hold a so-called referendum on joining Russia.
“Ukraine’s military are firing on the centre of Donetsk,” the military headquarters of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said on social media.
A Reuters journalist at the scene saw the body of a teenager and four others, along with several wounded citizens.
“According to the information received, six people were killed and six people were injured,” Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-installed mayor of Donetsk, claimed in a post on his Telegram channel.
Zelensky hails ‘superheroes’ freed in Russian prisoner swap
Thursday 22 September 2022 13:41 , Andy Gregory
Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the “superhero” Ukrainian commanders, including those who led the defence of Mariupol, who were freed by Russia as part of a huge and unexpected prisoner swap.
Under the terms of the deal, which Turkey helped broker, 215 Ukrainians – most captured after the fall of the port city – were released on Wednesday. In exchange, Ukraine sent back 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians.
“Five superheroes have been exchanged for 55 of those who deserve neither compassion nor pity,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly address, welcoming the broader release as “a victory for the country”.
EU ‘will need joint position on Russians fleeing war’
Thursday 22 September 2022 13:27 , Andy Gregory
The European Union will need to establish a joint position on requests for entry by Russians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, the bloc’s executive has said.
However, member states will have to assess requests on a case-by-case basis, taking into account fundamental rights and asylum procedure legislation, the European Commission said.
“There have been protests in a number of cities across Russia,” Commission spokesperson Peter Stano told a news briefing. “This is showing that the Russians are voting with their feet.”
“We as the European Union, in principle we stand in solidarity with the Russian citizens who have the courage and bravery to show their opposition to what the regime is doing, especially when it comes to this illegal war in Ukraine,” he added.
Baltic nations refuse asylum for Russians fleeing Putin’s war
Thursday 22 September 2022 13:12 , Andy Gregory
The three Baltic states have said they are not prepared to automatically offer asylum to Russians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s partial military mobilisation order, instead hoping that discontent with the Kremlin will grow in Russia.
In Latvia, foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said his country would not issue humanitarian or other visas to Russians seeking to avoid mobilisation, citing security reasons.
“We must not give in to (Mr Putin’s) blackmail and must support Ukraine as much as we can. Russia today is as dangerous to Europe and world peace as Nazi Germany was in the last century,” said Mr Rinkevics, according to the Baltic News Service (BNS).
Meanwhile, Lithuanian defence minister Arvydas Anusauskas said “being drafted into the army is not enough” of a reason for Russians to get asylum in his country, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, telling the Associated Press: “Political asylum is granted to those who are persecuted for their beliefs” or other similar reasons.
Yesterday, Estonian interior minister Lauri Laanemets called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “the collective responsibility of Russian citizens” and said allowing in those fleeing possible army service would violate European Union sanctions aimed at Moscow.
Moscow protesters shout ‘send Putin to the trenches’
Thursday 22 September 2022 13:00 , Andy Gregory
More than 1,300 people were arrested in at least 39 cities across Russia yesterday as Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation order sparked the first mass anti-war protests in months.
Crowds in Moscow – where at least 530 people were detained – could be heard chanting “send Putin to the trenches”.
Captured British nationals released by Russian-backed forces return to UK
Thursday 22 September 2022 12:30 , Andy Gregory
Five British nationals released by Russian-backed forces have landed safely in the UK.
The Presidium Network, which is supporting one of their families and helping get aid to Kyiv, said that Shaun Pinner, Aiden Aslin, John Harding, Dylan Healy and Andrew Hill had been reunited with their families on Thursday morning.
“We know they’re safely in the UK and [have] been reunited with their families,” said Presidium co-founder Dominik Byrne. “We don’t know exactly if they’ve all returned back to their homes yet, but we do know they’re with families at the moment.”
Kremlin does not deny protesters served with draft papers
Thursday 22 September 2022 11:58 , Andy Gregory
The Kremlin has insisted that reports of an exodus of draft-age men following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation are “exaggerated”.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also declined to deny Russian media reports that some anti-mobilisation protesters detained on Wednesday night had been given draft papers, saying: “This is not against the law.”