Russia stages sham referenda in Ukraine as U.N. says it finds new evidence of war crimes

In an escalation of the war, Moscow launched what the U.S. and others call illegal referenda in the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the United Nations said it has found new evidence of war crimes and many Russians appear to be fleeing the country instead of signing up for a new military draft. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, in an escalation of the war in Ukraine, Moscow today launched what the U.S. calls illegal votes, or referenda, in four regions of Southern and Eastern Ukraine that are currently occupied by Russia.

    Meanwhile, the U.N. said today that it has found new evidence of war crimes, and many Russians appear to be fleeing the country, instead of signing up to a new military draft.

    Nick Schifrin reports.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In a city still scarred by Russian shelling, now looms the threat of Russian annexation. Mariupol residents lined up outside what the Russians call a polling stations to fill out what the Russians call ballots. The question is, "Do you want to join Russia?"

    The outcome is not in doubt. State TV showed scripted and staged celebrations and some retail politicking, but this is the reality of what the U.S. and allies today called a sham. A soldier precedes a poll worker carrying a box of ballots, the occupied literally voting at gunpoint.

    Russian-installed Donetsk Governor Denis Pushilin portrayed the vote as self-determination and annexation inevitable.

    Denis Pushilin, Leader of Self-Proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (through translator): The referendum is a historic milestone, not only because we are certain the result will be positive, but because this is a culmination of our common difficult journey. We are returning home.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But these Ukrainians insist it is their home and call the Russians unwanted guests. These residents of Mykolaiv risked their lives today to protest the referendum. And those who escaped Russian occupation remain defiant.

  • Tatiana, Displaced Resident From Kherson (through translator):

    I am against the referendum. I think that my town and my region fully belong to Ukraine. This is all very hard, and I reckon that there is no place for Russians on our land.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    What the Russians are doing on Ukrainian land, today, U.N. officials say they found preliminary evidence of Russian atrocities.

    Erik Mose, United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine: Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Erik Mose say chairs the U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. He briefed the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva today.

  • Erik Mose:

    Sexual violence, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment. There are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes. In the cases we have investigated, the age of victims of sexual and gender-based violence ranged from 4 to 82 years.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And now those that committed those atrocities will be joined by hundreds of thousands more, as Russia mobilizes. Among the 300,000 additional forces it promises to deploy, these recruits 3,500 miles east of the Ukraine border. Some used sunglasses to hide tears.

  • Dmitry Plashenko, Draftee (through translator):

    The most difficult thing is to say goodbye to the kids and the rest.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And others are reluctant to head off to war and unconvinced.

  • Mikhail Vinokurov, Draftee (through translator):

    Of course I'm ready, but not now, not this time, for sure. I think it's not my war.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There are signs the call-up is more widespread than publicly promised, including an admonition by the country's top Orthodox priest for everyone to fulfill their military duty.

    But many seem to lack faith. In one clip posted online, the newly mobilized fight amongst themselves. In another, the drinking apparently begins far from the front.

    This recruiter tells his forcibly captive audience to be quiet and listen. They will be shipped to training for three days and won't come back until the war is over. But others aren't waiting. The line at the Russia-Finland border is double what it was last week. Some Russians are driving away, instead of being driven into Putin's war in Ukraine.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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