KYIV, Ukraine: Moscow began its mandatory troop call-up on Thursday to try to bolster a stumbling war effort in Ukraine, with authorities saying thousands had volunteered even as Russian men fled the country to avoid being forced to fight.Amateur footage posted on social media since President Vladimir Putin ordered the mobilisation of reservists on Wednesday purported to show hundreds of Russian citizens across the country responding to military summons.
The call-up came as Moscow-held regions of Ukraine are to vote in coming days on whether to become part of Russia in referendums that have been called an unlawful land grab by Kyiv and its allies.
Moscow took these steps after Ukrainian forces seized back most of the northeastern Kharkiv region, which has been seen as a possible turning point in the seven-month war that had fallen into stalemate.
The Russian military said on Thursday that at least 10,000 people had volunteered to fight in 24 hours since the order, but men also rushed to leave Russia before they were made to join. "I don’t want to go to the war," a man named Dmitri, who had flown to Armenia with just one small bag, told AFP. "I don’t want to die in this senseless war. This is a fratricidal war."
Military-aged men made up the majority of those arriving off the latest flight from Moscow at the Armenian airport and many were reluctant to speak. Yerevan has become a major destination for Russians fleeing since war began on February 24, drawing fierce international opposition that has aimed to isolate Russia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday demanded Putin be held to account as he faced Russia in a Security Council session in which the United Nations catalogued abuses in Ukraine.
"We cannot -- we will not -- let President Putin get away with it," Blinken told the Security Council in a special session as leaders met at the United Nations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- whom Blinken has refused to meet individually since the February invasion -- lashed out at Western accusations.
"There’s an attempt today to impose on us a completely different narrative about Russian aggression as the origin of this tragedy," Lavrov told the Security Council. The confrontation on the diplomatic stage escalated as Kremlin-installed officials in Ukrainian regions controlled by Moscow’s forces vowed on Thursday to press ahead with annexation polls this week.
Four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine -- Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south -- announced that they would hold the votes over five days, beginning on Friday.
Vladimir Saldo, the Moscow-installed head of Kherson, which fell early into the Russian invasion, said the referendum would go ahead in his region regardless of the criticism.
"The date has been set. We have the green light. Voting begins tomorrow and nothing can prevent this," he told Russian state-run media. "People have been waiting and they’re demanding that this vote is held soon," he added. Western leaders convening in New York this week unanimously condemned the ballots.
Speaking at the United Nations, US President Joe Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "shamelessly" violating the UN Charter with a war aimed at "extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state".Russia has announced that 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began. The real figure is likely to be much higher, with up to 80,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded since the start of the war.
Meanwhile, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has said that any weapons in Moscow's arsenal, including strategic nuclear weapons, could be used to defend territories joined to Russia from Ukraine.
Medvedev, who also serves as deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, said that referendums planned by Russian-installed and separatist authorities in large swathes of Ukrainian territory will take place, and "there is no going back".
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