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Head of Ukraine’s Zaporozhye Region Orders Preparations for Referendum on Joining Russia

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Zaporozhye Region will hold a referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine and request joining Russia, the head of its administration announced on Monday.

Evgeny Balitskiy said that he had signed an order to organize the plebiscite during a regional forum held in the city of Melitopol. Over 700 representatives from various parts of the Ukrainian region approved the idea, according to RIA Novosti.

Earlier comments by administration officials indicated the referendum may be held as soon as mid-September.

Russian forces took partial control of the region during the initial offensive against Ukraine launched in late February. The eponymous city located in the north of the region on the Dnepr River remains under Ukrainian control.

Officials in Kherson Region, another Russia-controlled part of Ukraine, voiced similar plans to put to a vote the proposal of breaking away from Kiev and seeking to join Russia.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky on Sunday reiterated a warning that if the two regions go through with their plans, Kiev will break off all talks with Russia. Moscow in response suggested that the Ukrainian president should address the citizens of those regions.

If it’s the citizens and the leadership of Russia, then it was not the right address. Zelensky should talk to his own citizens and ask why so many of them don’t want to live in his country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on Monday.

There have been no peace talks between Russia and Ukraine for months, as Kiev rejected such contacts and claimed it would only negotiate after defeating Russian on the battlefield with the help of Western military aid.

Before the talks broke off, the two nations appeared to have made progress in resolving their differences. During a meeting in Istanbul in late March, Kiev had pledged to become a neutral country and accept restrictions on its military. Moscow said it prepared a draft peace agreement based on those proposals, but Ukraine never responded.

An indirect Russian-Ukrainian deal was mediated last month by the UN and Turkey to allow grain exports from three Ukrainian ports to resume via the Black Sea. The scheme was formalized in two separate agreements that were signed by Russia and Ukraine with the other two parties.

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