Pro-Russian authorities in four regions of occupied Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – have been conducting widely-condemned “referendums” on whether the regions desire to be annexed by the Russian Federation.
Nato has condemned the plans to hold “referendums”, describing them as Moscow’s “blatant attempts at territorial conquest”. The “sham referenda” have no legitimacy, the alliance said. Referenda plans have been widely condemned as illegitimate and a precursor to illegal annexation.
Voting is also taking place for displaced Ukrainian citizens within the territory of Russia.
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of Ukraine’s president, described the votes as a “propaganda show”, saying “there is no legal action called a ‘referendum’ in the occupied territories.”
Ivan Fedorov, Ukraine’s elected mayor of Melitopol, has said “participation in a pseudo-referendum is the worst betrayal”. Serhai Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, said that all those involved in running today’s “referendums” will be punished.
The UK’s MoD says that “the battle situation remains complex” on the ground, but that “Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory that Russia considers essential to its war aims”, with fighting along the Oskil River, and a Ukrainian assault on the town of Lyman, Donetsk, which Russia captured in May.
Russia’s ministry of defence has issued a statement to say that people working in key roles in the country’s information technology, financial and communications sectors will be exempt from the partial mobilisation announced earlier this week.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed directly to Russians in his address on Thursday evening, calling on them to protest mobilisation, fight back, or run away. Those who did not “are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians. Because you were silent,” the Ukrainian president said.
Thousands of men across Russia have been handed draft papers after the mobilisation announcement. Among those called up since Putin’s announcement on Wednesday were Russians detained while protesting against the mobilisation, the independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said.
Traffic at Russian border crossings with Finland and Georgia surged after the mobilisation announcement sparked fears that men of fighting age would be called to the frontlines in Ukraine. Prices for one-way flights out of Moscow to the nearest foreign locations rose above $5,000 (£4,435), with most air tickets sold out for the coming days. Photos showed long tailbacks at border crossings with Finland and Georgia.
In response, Finland’s prime minister said her government was considering ways to sharply reduce Russian tourism and transit through Finland. “The government’s will is very clear: we believe Russian tourism [to Finland] must be stopped, as well as transit through Finland,” Sanna Marin told reporters.
The Kremlin has dismissed reports of an exodus of Russian men of fighting age as “exaggerated”. The 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.”
Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas told her nation overnight that power blackouts are possible if Russia kicks the Baltic states from the joint power grid.
Putin is giving directions directly to generals in the field, CNN reported. The direct orders from the Russian president to generals “hints at the dysfunctional command structure” that has affected Russian forces on the battlefield, according to two sources familiar with American and western intelligence who spoke to CNN.
The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, wants European Union sanctions on Russia lifted by the end of the year, a pro-government daily newspaper said. Orban, a Putin ally, has frequently railed against the sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Many of the Ukrainians exchanged in the largest prisoner swap with Russia since the beginning of the invasion show signs of violent torture, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence said on Thursday. On Wednesday, Ukraine announced the exchange of a record-high 215 imprisoned soldiers with Russia, including fighters who led the defence of Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks that became an icon of Ukrainian resistance.
Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said he was “not surprised” that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, walked out of a UN security council meeting on Thursday. “I don’t think Mr Lavrov wants to hear the collective condemnation of this council,” Cleverly said at the UN.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has strongly rebuked Russia for “totally unacceptable” nuclear threats. Speaking at the start of a UN security council meeting the day after Putin raised the stakes in his invasion of Ukraine, Guterres said Moscow’s plans to annex parts of Ukraine were a “violation of the UN charter and of international law”.
Five Britons released from Russia are meeting their families after several months of captivity in which it was feared they would be executed for fighting for Ukraine. A major diplomatic effort was behind the release of the five Britons who, together with two Americans, a Moroccan, a Croat and a Swedish national, were released by Russia to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.