What Do we Know about the Referendums Organized in the Occupied Territories of Ukraine?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Reading Time: 5 minutes


On September 26th, an article titled “In Kherson, voter turnout in the referendum exceeded 50%” was published on the website and Facebook page of the pro-Kremlin Alt-Info. The article claimed that according to international observers, the voter turnout in the referendum in Kherson exceeded 50%, meaning that the referendum is legitimate.

On September 24th, Georgian-language Facebook accounts started disseminating similar information, claiming that the German international observer, executive director of Energie Waldeck-Frankeberg, Steffen Bruno Schaller assessed the referendums and said that “everything was very transparent and very well organized”. The post is accompanied by a video of a story by the Russian state-owned media outlet Ria Novosti. In a comment to RIA Novosti, Schaller notes that the population was not under pressure during the voting process. The same video was also distributed by Russian-language Facebook accounts as well (1,2,3,4,5,6,7).

The information about the referendums organized in the occupied regions of Ukraine being carried out successfully with adherence to international standards in addition to being assessed as legitimate and transparent by international observers is missing context. The so-called referendums in the occupied regions of Ukraine are being held in violation of international standards. The Russian side is forcing the population to take part in the voting process against their free will, while the ‘international observers’ who are, in fact, not representing any international monitoring missions are used by the Kremlin to legitimize the referendums.

  • The so-called referenda held in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine violate Ukrainian law and the international standards of conducting elections and referenda.

 The so-called referenda held in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine were critically assessed by the representatives of international organizations and individual countries. For instance, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has condemned the so-called referenda, noting that they violate the rule of law and all the international standards of holding free and fair elections. The statement issued by the NDI notes that:

“any referendum affecting the territorial boundaries of the country must be an “All Ukrainian” referendum involving all of the country’s approximately 35 million registered voters. Consideration of such a referendum requires the signatures of three million registered voters from across the country. Only the parliament (Verkhovna Rada) or the president of the country can initiate an “All Ukrainian referendum”; and 4) such a referendum must be administered by the country’s Central Electoral Commission. None of these conditions has been met and hence the proposed referendums are illegal.”

In addition, as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe (CoE), Ukraine is obliged to conduct referendums in accordance with international standards, which entails respecting fundamental human rights, ensuring the ability of a secret and free voting process, media freedom, the existence of the non-partial elections body, ensuring the presence of international and local observers and the ability to appeal the results of the referendum. NDI notes that None of these structural features is in place in any of the four regions, and hence the proposed referendums cannot meet international standards for credible elections.

The intent by the Kremlin to organize the so-called referendums was condemned by the OSCE as well. The statement of OSCE notes that “Any elections or referenda on the territory of Ukraine can only be announced and conducted by legitimate authorities in compliance with national legislation and international standards. Therefore the planned “referenda” will be illegal.”

The results of the referenda will not be recognized by the West as well. The statement issued by U.S. President Joe Biden states that the country will work with its allies and partners to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia.

  • The people living in the temporarily occupied territories are being forced to take part in the so-called referendums.

The voting in the temporarily occupied regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson took place on September 27th. However, the door-to-door voting will last a couple of days more. While speaking to international media, the locals say that the voting process is being carried out under the supervision of armed personnel. In an interview with the Guardian, the residents of Kherson recall that no active campaigning took place prior to the referendum, and many people do not even know where to go to vote. One of the respondents told the Guardian there is no point in voting as the results are already pre-planned. In an interview with the BBC, a resident of Enerhodar stated that they had to answer verbally, and the soldiers would mark the answer on the sheet and keep it. A Melitopol resident told the BBC that two local “collaborators” arrived with two Russian soldiers at her parents’ flat, to give them a ballot to sign. The family asked what would happen if they voted against joining Russia, they did not receive the answer, but the family feared that they would become subjects of persecution. There is also video footage disseminated on the internet, where one can see an armed man following the door-to-door ballot boxes, indicating that the illegal referendums are being carried out under the psychological pressure of the voters.

  • The so-called international observers are being used by the Kremlin to legitimize the referendums.

Steffen Schaller, the international observer who was in the forefront of the Russian media, was the executive director of Energie Waldeck-Frankeberg. After it became known that he had come to the occupied territories of Ukraine to observe an illegal referendum, Schaller was removed from the position. It should be noted that he took a leave of absence to observe the referendums, and he was not serving as a representative of any official organization or agency at the referendum.

 The decision to dismiss Schaller was made unanimously by the supervisory and board of directors of the company on September 26th. The Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Jürgen van der Horst said that the behavior of the CEO violates the worldview, moral values ​​and philosophy of the company, and any violation of the company’s international norms and violence is unacceptable. Jürgen van der Horst also noted that against the backdrop of the energy crisis in Germany, the arrival of the director of the German energy company as an observer in the referendum is unacceptable, and the company has received many critical comments from the public.

While speaking to the Russian media, Schaller assessed the referendum positively. After criticism of his actions, he mentioned to Tass that his company was now under pressure. However, he told the German media that he regretted going as an observer and that it was a thoughtless act on his part.

Schaller’s arrival as an observer at the illegal referendums was criticized, and his dismissal from the post was positively evaluated by the leaders of the regional parliamentary groups of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Free Democrats, Greens and Free Voters in Germany.

The article has been written in the framework of Facebook’s fact-checking program. You can read more about the restrictions that Facebook may impose based on this article via this link. You can find information about appealing or editing our assessment via this link.

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Topic: Politics
Violation: Misleading
Country: Russia, Ukraine
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