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Leaders of pro-Moscow occupied zone seek to join Russia, Zelensky slams ‘collaborators’

Leaders of pro-Moscow occupied zone seek to join Russia, Zelensky slams ‘collaborators’

Live broadcast footage shows people holding a banner in the colors of the Ukrainian flag as they protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Kherson, Ukraine, on March 13, 2022, in this still image from a social media video obtained by Reuters.

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  • Kherson will be the first region to be annexed since the Russian incursion
  • The Kremlin says residents should decide their own fate
  • Ukrainian governor says residents want a quick return to Ukraine

(Reuters) – Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, citing the military and civil administration there, that the Russian-occupied Kherson region in Ukraine intends to ask President Vladimir Putin to integrate it into Russia by the end of 2022.

Kherson is the first region to be annexed since Moscow launched its military campaign in February, saying it needed to disarm Ukraine and protect Russian speakers from “fascists”. Ukraine and the West have rejected this logic as a baseless excuse to launch a war of imperialist aggression.

The Kremlin said it was up to residents living in the region to decide whether they wanted to join Russia.

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But Henady Lahota, the ousted Ukrainian governor of the Kherson region, told reporters in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro that the residents only wanted “quick liberation and a return to the bosom of their homeland, their mother – Ukraine.”

Russia said in April it had taken full control of the area, which has seen sporadic anti-Russian protests.

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Kherson, home to a port city of the same name, provides part of the land link between Crimea, which Russia captured from Ukraine in 2014, and the Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. Read more

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the time that negotiations with Moscow would be in jeopardy if Russia used “fake referendums” to justify the annexation of the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia regions.

In a late-night video speech on Wednesday, Zelensky denounced “those marginalized people, whom the Russian state found to act as collaborators.” He said they were making statements of “cosmic stupidity.”

He added: “But no matter what the occupiers do, it means nothing – they have no chance. I am confident that we will liberate our land and our people.”

“No referrals”

In 2014, a month after erroneously occupying Crimea, Moscow organized a referendum there — which Ukraine and the West rejected as illegitimate — overwhelmingly supporting Russia’s annexation.

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

However, Kirill Strimosov, deputy head of the Russia-controlled Civil Military Administration, was quoted by RIA as telling reporters:

“There will be no referendums because it is absolutely unimportant, given that the referendum held legally in the Republic of Crimea was not accepted by the international community.”

The administration did not immediately respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment.

Lahota said in Dnipro that 300,000 of the region’s 1 million or so residents had left as a result of the Russian takeover.

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Ukraine said there were protests in Kherson against the Russian occupation, and that a rally two weeks ago was broken up with tear gas.

“After repeated casualties of people in Kherson, in Nova Kakhovka … fewer people began to protest because the enemy began to act more and more cruelly, and began to arrest people,” said Lahota.

Russia has already introduced the ruble currency in the Kherson region, replacing the Ukrainian hryvnia.

TASS quoted the Russia-controlled administration as saying that pension bodies and a banking system would be set up for the region, and that branches of a Russian bank could open there before the end of May.

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Reporting by Reuters. Editing by Angus McSwan and Grant McCall

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.