BBRAVE Ukrainians in an occupied city have REFUSED to vote in Putin's sham referendum despite being threatened at gunpoint by Russian soldiers.
The referendum to join Russia was launched on Friday in Russian-controlled parts of the Kherson, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions – 15 per cent of sovereign Ukrainian territory.
The sham referendum has been largely slammed by the international community, as soldiers went door-to-door to request votes at gunpoint, and open-air mobile polling stations were established on view.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said the voting “looked more like an opinion survey under the gun barrels".
Less than 60,000 people remain in the city of Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia Oblast region of south-eastern Ukraine which was home to over 150,000 before Russia invaded Ukraine.
While civilians in occupied territories across Ukraine have expressed fear they could face repercussions if they refused to vote, less than one in five Melitopol residents actually cast their votes.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov described a sense of defiance in his city.
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"Less than 60,000 out of 150,000 residents are now remaining within the temporarily occupied city of Melitopol and held hostage by Russia.
"For three days, the occupiers have been trying to hold a sham referendum but failing. However, this will have little effect, because we understand the results have already been drawn," Fedorov said on messaging app Telegram.
The exiled mayor explained how Russian occupiers went from "apartment to apartment" flanked by gunmen to collect votes over the three-day period, "and were only able to find 20 per cent of the residents".
"Only 10 per cent of them were forced to vote "for" the support of the Russian Federation," he added. "We understand they voted against their will, under pressure, at gunpoint."
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The leader explained how "if other people live there, they are forced to vote for the apartment owners", adding that Russian occupiers also "catch people in the street" to force them to vote.
Russian soldiers also threatened to kill residents' families if they refused to vote. The names of those who votes against joining Russia were taken down, reports also said.
Russia, meanwhile, claimed it had soldiers to oversee the vote for "security" reasons.
A day before the referendum, Fedorov warned Ukrainian men living under Russian control would be used as "cannon fodder" at the front line.
The mayor openly encouraged men aged 18 to 35 to "immediately leave the occupied territory using the Crimea-Georgia route" to avoid Russian mobilisation in the occupied territories.
At the time, he said men were not able to leave the area and he believed that male residents would be drafted into the Russian-backed armed forces.
Melitopol was one of the largest cities to fall seven months ago.
'Sham' vote to escalate the war
It is anticipated that the pre-determined vote results could see these territories become independent (entirely rejecting Ukraine control) before being absorbed into the Russian Federation.
If annexed by Moscow, the Russian-help regions would automatically be "under the full protection" of Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
And there are real fears Putin could rapidly escalate the war.
Experts believe Putin could use the annexation of Russian-held regions to claim its territory is coming under attack by Western weapons – such as NATO – supplied to Ukraine.
The vote is expected to last until Tuesday.
The latest staged vote echoes another fraudulent ballot he imposed in Crimea in 2014 after Russia invaded the region. At the time, the illegal referendum – which Russia claimed it had won with claimed 96.7 per cent of support – was reject by the international community.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss slammed the "sham referenda" on Sunday.
She told CNN: "I think he didn’t anticipate the strength of reaction from the free world.
"We should not be listening to his [Putin's] sabre-rattling and his bogus threats. Instead, what we need to do is continue to put sanctions on Russia and continue to support the Ukrainians."
The annexation vote in these territories threatened by the Ukrainian army's successful counter-offensive comes as embattled and isolated Russia is carrying out a mass mobilisation – an extra 300,000 troops.
Russia’s shambolic mobilisation has seen newly-mobilised recruits being sent to the frontline with shoddy AK-47s that are either jammed or completely covered in rust, or conscripts sent to fight with no training.
Tatyana Dotsenko explained how her 45-year-old husband Andrei Kozyrev was mobilised in their town of Lipetsk before being sent to the frontline in Donbas with 1,000 other men assigned to the 237th tank regiment – with "one day of training" and "no medical examination".
Brave civilians have been staging mass protests at the forced draft.
On Sunday, dramatic footage emerged of a huge protest in Makhachkala in Dagestan – an epicentre of Russian resistance.
Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested as thousands are trying to flee the country, leading to thousands of arrests.
According to OVD-Info, over 2,000 Russians have been arrested for protesting Putin’s the mobilisation policy in 33 towns across the country, including in Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita and Ivanovo.
Dramatic footage showed officers hauling away protesters- some of which were accused of illegal rallies and in some cases discrediting Putin’s armed forces, which could lead to up to 15 years in jail.
It followed the arrest of over 1,300 protesters on Wednesday after Putin's announcement live on TV.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Russian conscripts sabotage the army from within.
He said during his speech on Saturday: “If you get into the Russian army, sabotage any activity of the enemy, hinder any Russian operations, provide us with any important information about the occupiers – their bases, headquarters, warehouses with ammunition.
“Avoid conscription letters. Try to get to the free territory of Ukraine."
Meanwhile, desperate Russians have been frantically trying to flee the country to avoid being sent to the frontline.
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Huge queues have built at the borders with Finland, Georgia and Mongolia while men are rushing to get married to avoid getting conscripted.
Flights have also been disrupted, with fares for journeys on Russia's national airline Aeroflot going for up to £10,000.
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