Residents of eastern Ukraine voted to extend Putin's rule

Donetsk, Ukraine  Residents of separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine are heading to Russia to vote on constitutional amendments that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.

As part of a broader effort to promote a controversial referendum, self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republic officials have arranged bus service for polling stations in Russia's neighboring Rostov region.

Dozens of people were waiting to board a bus to Russia at the bus station in Donetsk, an insurgent-controlled city in eastern Ukraine on Friday morning. Some voters told the Associated Press that the constitutional changes would increase the powers of Russian officials and bring peace to the separatist zone in eastern Ukraine. Others felt that these changes could make the separatist republics part of Russia.

Russia last Thursday voted in January for a week of Putin's proposed constitutional amendments. The amendments include a change to the Russian constitution, which allows Putin, 67, who has ruled Russia for two decades, to run for two and six years after the current 2024 expiry.

Russian officials went to large numbers this month to attract voters amid the outbreak of coronavirus. Independent foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov says this is part of the effort for residents of eastern Ukraine to participate.

“(Russian officials) are likely to have consequences (votes) in eastern Ukraine, and areas controlled by insurgents contribute to some" manageable voting ".

More than 220,000 Ukrainians living in areas occupied by Russian-backed rebels received Russian passports last year after Putin signed a decree seeking citizenship from residents of the self-proclaimed Republic. The move has been widely condemned as an attack on Ukraine's sovereignty that has undermined efforts to end the separatist conflict that has claimed more than 14,000 lives since 2014.

More than 150,000 people living in eastern Ukraine have expressed their willingness to vote on constitutional reform, Russian lawyer Viktor Wodolatsky told the state Tas news agency last week.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Russia's borders have been closed since the end of March due to the outbreak of coronavirus, but there are policies that allow Russian citizens to enter.

According to separatist officials, there are 12 polling stations in the Rostov region, where residents of eastern Ukraine can vote. The Regional Electoral Commission has confirmed to the AP that polling stations have not been registered for Russian citizens as regional residents work.

Russian election monitors suggest that bringing residents of eastern Ukraine to Russia to vote may facilitate the vote. With the coordinator of the election watchdog, Golos independent election watchdog Vladimir Yegorov said that it is difficult to verify that the voters of the diaspora are not registered at a specific polling station and that they have not voted multiple times in different polls, as many stations in the Rostov region.

"The vote lasts seven days, and a person can vote multiple times in multiple polling stations if they so desire, and there is no way to control it," Yegorov said.

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