WAR IN UKRAINERussia Annexes Parts of Eastern Ukraine: What We Need to Know

By Tatsiana Kulakevich

Published 30 September 2022

On Friday, 30 September 2022, Russia has formally annexed four regions in east Ukraine. The people in these four regions are not a single political bloc, even though most of the people in these territories do not want to join Russia.

Russia is set to formally annex four occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, claiming the region as its own more than six months after it first invaded its neighboring country [Editor’s note: Russia, on Friday, 30 September 2022, formally annexed these east Ukrainian regions].

Russia announced on Sept. 27, 2022, that more than 85 percent of people in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, as well as parts of two other occupied regions in Ukraine – Kherson and Zaporizhshia – voted to become part of Russia.

But the United Nations, the United States and Ukrainian officials have all decried the process as a “sham” and illegal.

The Group of Seven, an international political coalition with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S. as members, also condemned Russia’s referendums as “illegitimate.” The G7 leaders have promised to impose sanctions on Russia if it proceeds with the annexation.

There are reports that Russian and Chechen soldiers have pressured people at their homes and at voting sites to align with Russia.

As a researcher of Eastern Europe, I think it’s important to understand that people in these four regions are not a single political bloc, even though most of the people in these territories do not want to join Russia.

The Four Ukrainian Regions Have Distinct Relationships with Russia
Russian forces first occupied parts of Kherson, a port city, and Zaporizhzhia, a city that’s home to the largest nuclear facility in Europe, earlier in 2022.

But even before Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, it also controlled parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The Kremlin has supported and armed two puppet separatist governments in this region, known as Donbas, since 2014.

In May 2014, breakaway Ukrainian politicians proclaimed that Donetsk and Luhansk were not part of Ukraine, but actually were independent “republics.”

The Kremlin did not officially recognize these newly proclaimed republics until February 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched its invasion of Ukraine days later.

As Russia turned to conscript fighters in these breakaway regions to fill front lines, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson have been fighting against Russia since the start of the war.

In March 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded the honorary title of “Hero City” to Kherson for its fierce defense against Russian forces during the early days of the war.