Four of Ukraine's occupied territories are set to vote Friday in a Kremlin-engineered referendum on whether to become part of Russia, setting the stage for Moscow's nearly seven-month long war to annex the territory.
Ukraine and its Western allies have rejected the vote as illegal and neither free nor fair, and have said they will have no binding force.
German Chancellor Olaf Schulz and US President Joe Biden both called the vote a "sham referendum" this week. While French President Emmanuel Macron said they would have "no legal consequences", Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called them "noise" to distract the public.
Authorities in the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions, known as Donbas in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, suddenly announced just three days ago that referendums on joining Russia would begin on Friday.
Moscow-backed officials also called votes in Kherson and Zaporozhye regions in the south.