US will take ‘catastrophic’ action if Vladimir Putin uses nuclear weapons

Ukrainians living under occupation have been warned their families would be massacred if they refuse to take part. 

Despite the threats, Ivan Fedorov, Ukraine’s elected mayor of Melitopol, said: “Our citizens haven’t taken part in this fake referendum … after three days Russia has only been able to find just 20 per cent of people to vote. Nobody wants to vote, nobody wants to say yes to the Russian referendum.” 

Of those forced to cast a vote, he said “90 per cent” had voted against Russia’s occupation becoming permanent. 

In the occupied regions of Ukraine, Moscow has introduced the rouble and issued Russian passports. Ballots are being held, and are expected to continue until Tuesday, in Russian-controlled parts of the Kherson, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. 

Melitopol, in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, had a pre-war population of about 150,000 and is one of the largest cities to fall under Russian control since the start of the war. 

In the build-up to the vote, pro-Moscow officials blocked evacuation routes to Ukrainian-held territory, only allowing women and children to flee to occupied Crimea, Mr Fedorov said. 

Mr Fedorov said men of fighting age had been blocked from leaving altogether, raising the prospect of them being forcibly drafted into Russian-backed armed forces. 

More than 60,000 people still reside in the city, without the support of Ukraine’s government.