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Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now

men drafted into the russian army during partial mobilisation say goodbye to their relatives and acquaintances outside a military commissariat in moscow
Men drafted into the Russian army during partial mobilisation say goodbye to their relatives and acquaintances outside a military commissariat in Moscow, Russia September 23

Russia launched referendums on Friday aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine, drawing condemnation from Kyiv and Western nations who dismissed the votes as a sham and pledged not to recognise their results.

REFERENDUMS

* Ukrainian officials said people were banned from leaving some occupied areas until the four-day vote was over, armed groups were going to homes to force people to cast ballots, and employees were threatened with the sack if they did not participate.

* Reuters could not immediately verify reports of coercion.

* The votes in the provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were hastily organised after Ukraine recaptured large swathes of the northeast in a counter-offensive.

* Ukraine, Western leaders and the United Nations condemned the votes as an illegitimate precursor to illegal annexation. There are no independent observers, and much of the pre-war population has fled.

* The United States is prepared to impose additional economic costs on Russia in conjunction with U.S. allies if Moscow moves forward with annexing portions of Ukrainian territory, the White House said on Friday.

* NATO will ramp up its help for Kyiv in response to the “sham” referendums, the alliance’s secretary-general said on Friday.

* Russia maintains that the referendums offer an opportunity for people in the region to express their view.

GRAIN DEAL

* A total of 211 ships with 4.7 million tonnes of agricultural products on board have left Ukraine so far under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to unblock Ukrainian sea ports, the Ukrainian infrastructure ministry said.

FIGHTING, ABUSES

* Russian attacked a dam on the Siverskyi Donets river with a suspected short-range ballistic missile, the second strike on a dam since Sept. 15, apparently with the aim of flooding Ukrainian military crossing points, British military intelligence said on Saturday.

* A Russian missile hit a residential building in Zaporizhzhia causing casualties, the town’s acting mayor told media.

* A U.N.-mandated investigation commission said on Friday it had found evidence of war crimes including executions, rape, torture and confinement of children in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, after visits to 27 areas and interviews with more than 150 victims and witnesses.

* Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians in the conflict and says abuse accusations are a smear campaign. It did not immediately comment on the report.

* Ukraine said on Friday it would downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran over its decision to supply Russian forces with drones.

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