LONDON, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin will proclaim the annexation of four Ukrainian regions at a Kremlin ceremony on Friday, a major escalation in the seven-month war. Ukraine and the West have denounced the moves – as they did with Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea – as illegal seizures after what they called sham referendums held at gunpoint.
Here are some details of the four regions – each roughly the area of the U.S. state of Massachusetts and together comprising about 15% of Ukraine’s land area – and the varying extents to which Russia has already brought them under its control by military, economic and other means.
DONETSK AND LUHANSK
Two Russian-backed breakaway entities – the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) – have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014. Putin recognised both as “independent states” and extended Russia’s protection to them on Feb. 21, three days before invading Ukraine.
With these two proxY authorities, Russia controls nearly all of the Ukrainian Luhansk region but only about 60% of Donetsk. The two regions, with a combined population of about 6 million before the invasion, are collectively known as the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking centre of coal mining and heavy industry until their economies were wrecked by the fighting from 2014 onwards. The Kremlin said this week that what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine would continue at least until the full “liberation” of the Donetsk region.
Kherson, with a pre-war population of only a million, lies just north of Russian-annexed Crimea, and Russian forces control almost the entire region. Kherson is the focus of a counter-offensive that Ukraine has been building for weeks, in part by bombing bridges over the Dnipro River to sever Russia’s supply lines and attempt to cut off some of its forces.
Civilians in Kherson staged a series of protests after Russia captured the regional capital, the city of Kherson, in the early days of the war, and pro-Russian officials have been the targets of bomb attacks.
Russia has also said it is incorporating the small portion of Ukraine’s adjoining Mykolayiv province that it occupies into the Kherson region, for the purposes of annexation.
Zaporizhzhia became the centre of world attention after fighting in the vicinity of its nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe, disrupted power supplies to the facility and raised fears of a radiation disaster. Russia controls the nuclear plant and roughly 70% of the province as a whole – but not the regional capital, also called Zaporizhzhia, which accounted for about half the region’s pre-war population of 1.6 million.
Moscow has already taken a series of steps to “russify” all the regions it is about to annex. That process is most advanced in the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, where it has handed out hundreds of thousands of Russian passports to residents since 2019 and almost completely replaced Ukraine’s hryvnia currency with the Russian rouble. In Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, both currencies are in circulation.
In the occupied areas of all four regions, access to Ukrainian TV and mobile phone networks has been cut and only Russian channels and telecoms providers are available. Schools previously teaching the Ukrainian curriculum are being forced to adopt a new Russian one. The breakaway entities in Donetsk and Luhansk have their own flags, soon to be replaced by Russia’s, while billboards on streets in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia hail their future as part of Russia. Moscow has proclaimed the annexation as a “homecoming” of territories that were once part of the Russian empire, while Ukraine has vowed to recapture all of the occupied lands.
Reporting by Reuters