Pro-Moscow leaders in occupied region seek to join Russia, Zelenskiy slams ‘collaborators’

Livestreamed 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, March 13, 2022 in this still image from a social media video obtained by REUTERS

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  • Kherson would be the first area annexed since the Russian incursion
  • Kremlin says residents must decide their own fate
  • Ukrainian governor says people want a quick return to Ukraine

May 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Kherson region plans to ask President Vladimir Putin to integrate it into Russia by the end of 2022, the Russian News Agency reported on Wednesday. TASS, citing the military-civilian administration.

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

The Kremlin said it was up to the people of 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 people wanted only “a speedy release and a return to their homeland, their mother – Ukraine. “.

Russia said in April it had taken 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 threatened if Russia used “pseudo-referendums” to justify annexing the occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

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

He added: “But no matter what the occupiers do, it means nothing – they don’t stand a chance. I am confident that we will liberate our land and our people.”

“NO REFERENDUMS”

In 2014, a month after occupying Crimea in a lightning invasion, Moscow held a referendum there – rejected as illegitimate by Ukraine and the West – which overwhelmingly backed Russian annexation.

Asked Wednesday about Kherson’s joining Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said residents should decide their own fate, but such decisions needed a clear legal basis, “as was the case with Crimea”.

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

“There will be no referendums because it is absolutely not important, since the referendum held 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 300,000 of the region’s estimated million people left as a result of the Russian takeover.

Ukraine said there had been protests in Kherson against the Russian occupation and a rally two weeks ago was dispersed with tear gas.

“After repeated wounding of people in Kherson, in Nova Kakhovka…fewer people started protesting because the enemy started acting harder and harder, started arresting people,” Lahuta said.

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

TASS quoted the Russian-controlled administration as saying that pension organizations and a banking system would be created from scratch for the region, and that branches of a Russian bank could be opened there before the end of the month. may.

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Reuters reporting; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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