Escalation in eastern Ukraine: 3 Ukrainian soldiers killed, 1 civilian injured, and residents reportedly forced to vote in Russian Duma elections

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Escalation in eastern Ukraine: 3 Ukrainian soldiers killed, 1 civilian injured, and residents reportedly forced to vote in Russian Duma elections

The Joint Forces Operation (JFO) reported 63 ceasefire violations on the part of Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine between September 11th and 18th. 16 Ukrainian soldiers were injured as a result of these ceasefire violations. Over the weekend of September 11-12, three Ukrainian service members – Denys Herman, Oleksiy Kulenko, and Artur Golub – were killed by Russian-sponsored militants. This year alone, 61 Ukrainian troops have been killed and over 150 wounded in the war in eastern Ukraine.

The JFO also reported an increase in ceasefire violations aimed at civilian settlements. On September 11th, Russian-occupation troops used UAVs to dump mines in the area of the newly renamed settlement New York as well as fired at the civilian infrastructure of Novogntivka. The worst ceasefire violation occurred on September 16th, when troops fired at the settlement of Happiness, injuring a civilian. Russian-backed forces also shelled the Taramchuk settlement and damaged a private house that same day.

Following the escalation in eastern Ukraine – including a further buildup of Russian military equipment – OSCE delegates visited the Zolote entry-exit checkpoint of the Luhansk region to meet with representatives of the Ukrainian side of the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC). OSCE representatives ensured they would take all necessary measures to prevent ceasefire violations.

For the first time, Russia allowed residents of occupied Donbas to vote in Duma elections. Preparations for elections in occupied regions began in July when Russia’s Central Election Commission announced that Russian passport holders in eastern Ukraine would be able to vote in the upcoming Russian parliamentary elections. Some 630,000 Russian passports were distributed in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

United Russia – the ruling party of President Vladimir Putin – then began to campaign in occupied areas of Donbas for the first time. Duma MPs from United Russia visited the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in July and made campaign speeches promising to improve economic conditions in Donbas.

Voting in occupied regions was carried out online, with a reported 255 remote voting centers opened in Donetsk and 141 more in Luhansk. Donbas locals were also provided free transportation to the Rostov Oblast of Russia to vote in person, with 825 buses and 12 trains departing from Donetsk alone. However, even Russian passport-holders weren’t eager to vote, with only 100,000 residents of occupied Donbas registered to vote. Residents were reportedly forced to vote or required to provide a “solid reason” for refusing.