Fighting Rages in Ukraine Ahead of Announced Annexation Referendums

On the eve of referendums that could see four regions effectively annexed by Russia, Ukrainian and Russian-installed officials have both informed of increased fighting, exchanging accusations and blame over the attacks.

After an explosion hits a crowded market in the city of Melitopol, Vladimir Rogov of the Russian-installed local administration accused Ukrainian special services of carrying the attack to intimidate civilians ahead of the referendums.

Meanwhile, the hawkish long-term ally of Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, who previously on Tuesday suggested that the self-proclaimed separatist regions of eastern Ukraine should hold referendums to join Russia, said that the vote will take place and that there’s no going back.

He stressed that both the Western establishment and all citizens of NATO countries must understand that Russia has chosen its own path, adding that any weapons in its arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend the annexed Ukrainian territories that join Russian Federation.

Melitopol’s exiled mayor Ivan Fedorov, on the other hand, accused the occupying Russian forces for deliberately staging the attack to accuse Ukraine of terrorism.

He also urged local men of draft age to immediately leave occupied Melitopol Russia’s recent announcement of “partial mobilization,” worried that Russia will also roll out mobilization in the Ukraine territories it occupies.

Fedorov believes the most severe conscription will be conducted in the southern oblasts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, where Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych also called on residents to evacuate.

Previously on Wednesday, two American veterans and five British citizens were released in a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, brokered by Saudi Arabia, after being held by Russian-backed forces for months as POWs.

The Saudi embassy said in a statement that it also helped secure the release of prisoners from Morocco, Sweden, and Croatia.