A group of internally displaced people from Mariupol hold Ukrainian flags and placards reading "Russia is the terrorist country: at a rally in Odesa Saturday, the second of five days of what they call a "sham referendum" in Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE
Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Soldiers going door-to-door in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine were met with protests during Saturday's second day of referendum voting, official media reported, as the G7 nations condemned the poll as a sham.
Rallies were held in several Ukrainian cities as people urged their fellow residents not to take part in the five-day vote now underway in the Luhansk, Kherson, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions, according to the Ukrinform press agency.
"We oppose the sham referendum in Mariupol. Today we have gathered so that the whole world hears that Mariupol is Ukraine," Mariupol resident Yulia Hryhor told the news service.
The referendums are being held in areas that Russia controls, including Luhansk and Kherson, as well as in regions it partly controls such as Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia. The latter two make up the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, a region where pro-Russia separatists have been living for years and fighting the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.
Soldiers carrying out the door-to-door canvassing the occupied regions are using intimidation to coerce voting, residents told Western media.
"You have to answer verbally and the soldier marks the answer on the sheet and keeps it," one woman in Enerhodar told the BBC, while others said people were being given one ballot per household in some cities, not per person.
The soldiers are only there for "security" reasons, Russia's state media reported, adding that Sept. 27 will be the only day for in-person voting.
The leaders of the Group of Seven nations, meanwhile, condemned the "sham" referendums in a statement issued late Friday as Moscow looked to quickly annex parts of Ukraine, as it did in Crimea nearly a decade ago.
"We, the Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7), strongly condemn the sham referenda that Russia attempts to use to create a phony pretext for changing the status of Ukrainian sovereign territory, which is subject to an ongoing Russian aggression. These actions clearly breach the United Nations Charter and international law and go diametrically against the rule of law among nations," the group said in a statement.
"These sham referenda initiated today by Russia and its proxies have no legal effect or legitimacy, as demonstrated by Russia's hasty methods of organization, which in no way respect democratic norms, and its blatant intimidation of local populations."
The referenda "in no way represent a legitimate expression of the will of the Ukrainian people, who have consistently resisted Russian efforts to change borders by force," the G7 statement reads. "We will never recognize these referenda, which appear to be a step toward Russian annexation, and we will never recognize a purported annexation if it occurs."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on newly-recruited Russian soldiers on Saturday to revolt and help sabotage the army from within by sharing intelligence with Kyiv.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a "partial mobilization" of reservists, calling up 300,000 soldiers.
Thousands of Russians continued fleeing the country Friday after the Kremlin has increased penalties for refusal of service or desertion to 10 years in prison