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Some Ukrainian men in the Russian-occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region are fleeing to avoid potential forced conscription into Moscow’s army. Their flight comes amid what the EU has called sham referendums, staged by Russia, that seek to legitimize annexation of the territories its forces control.
“They’re already drafting 18-to-35-year-olds over there,” a man with gray hair said in front of a line of cars near a Ukrainian army checkpoint. “They don’t ask whether you want to or not. They force you to sign up.”
The men are travelling as internally displaced people (IDP) to Zaporizhzhia city, located in the northern third of the region and under Ukrainian control.
“I’m 50, Valery is 59. Today they’re only drafting those under 35 but tomorrow it’ll be 50,” a man with brown hair said. “They’ll push everyone into this war. But we are not going to fight against Ukraine, we’re patriots.”
Oleg Buryak heads Zaporizhzhia city’s military administration. Visiting buildings that have been shelled has lately been part of his daily routine.
“We’ve never had as much daily shelling as now,” he said. “Why are they intimidating us? For us it’s clear: Their referendum means nothing, whatever result they present.”
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