Russian recruits on a bus near a military recruiting office in Krasnodar, Russia.Image AP

    There would be five times as many victims on the Russian side, according to Zelensky. It is rare for the president to talk about losses on the Ukrainian side, but it has caught the attention of the media, so he couldn’t avoid it this weekend.

    Also The New York Times wrote about it on Saturday. The newspaper visited the Kherson front in the south, where Ukraine’s advance is “painfully slow” and accompanied “with great losses”. It may well be the most heartbreaking battle fought in Ukraine, the paper said. The New York Times spoke soldiers who lost ‘fifty men in two hours’, or ‘hundreds’ in a failed attempt to liberate one village. However, Ukraine has no choice but to continue the attack, Ukrainian officials say.

    One reason to fight on with greater haste are the referenda that Russia is holding until Tuesday in the conquered parts of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhia. US President Joe Biden and many others have already condemned those referendums, calling them “a sham.”

    Result is predetermined

    The British BBC has shown footage of pro-Russian officials, accompanied by armed soldiers, going door-to-door in the occupied city of Kherson to force people to complete the referendum. Nobody opens.

    This does not deter Russia. After Tuesday, all conquered territories are expected to be formally annexed by the Kremlin to Russia, because the outcome of the referendums seems to be predetermined. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Saturday that that result will be formalized immediately after Tuesday, and that from then on all areas annexed by Russia will become part of the Russian Federation. They are then ‘under the full protection of the state’.

    Lavrov suggested that the use of nuclear weapons was also a possibility, should Ukraine try to liberate those areas after all. The Russian minister spoke to the press in New York, after a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

    Long lines at the border

    It is feared that after Tuesday, Ukrainians in the annexed areas will also be forced to serve in the Russian army, as part of the ‘partial mobilization’ of 300 thousand reserve troops. This mobilization is difficult. More and more videos are appearing on the internet of long traffic jams at the borders where Russian men try to flee the mobilization. They are trying to reach Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia before Russia closes these escape routes.

    Russians who protest against forced mobilization in their own country are often arrested. According to the human rights channel OVD-Info 798 people were arrested by the police on Saturday alone.