The "referendums" are a five-day process in which residents have been asked by Russia-installed authorities if they want to join the Russian Federation. In some cases, officials brought the ballots to apartment buildings accompanied by armed police.
Till Tuesday, residents of the Russian-controlled regions will head to polling stations to cast their ballots.
Large swaths of the pre-war population in these areas have already fled, and some of those who have remained behind have been banned from leaving occupied areas during the voting, Ukrainian officials said.
US President Joe Biden has called the so-called "referendums" a "sham" and vowed a "severe" response if Russia annexes parts of Ukraine.
Olga Aivazovska, chairwoman of the civil network Opora, which conducts independent election observation and parliamentary oversight in Ukraine, told DW that Ukrainians in occupied regions should "leave" the territory to avoid participating in "pseudo-referendums."
"This act doesn't have any connection with [a] real referendum or real voting," Aivazovska said, referring to the votes on joining the Russian Federation being held in occupied parts of Ukraine.
Aivazovska said that after the "pseudo-referendum" held in these territories, Moscow will annex them and then conscript local men into the Russian army.
"These people will not have any choice," she said. "According to Russians' understanding, they will be under their jurisdiction."
Here's a roundup of other news from or concerning the war in Ukraine on September 24.
Lavrov pledges 'full protection' for any territory annexed by Russia
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said regions of Ukraine where widely-derided "referendums" are being held would be under Russia's "full protection" if they are annexed by Moscow.
Asked if Russia would have grounds for using nuclear weapons to defend annexed regions of Ukraine, Lavrov said Russian territory, including territory "further enshrined" in Russia's constitution in the future, "is under the full protection of the state."
"All of the laws, doctrines, concepts and strategies of the Russian Federation apply to all of its territory," he said, also referring specifically to Russia's doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons.
Ukraine requests urgent UN Security Council meeting
Ukraine has requested an urgent meeting at the UN Security Council on Russia's sham referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.
"Russia must beheld accountable for its further attempts to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders in a violation of the UN Charter," Oleh Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, wrote on Twitter.
The vote — condemned by Ukraine, Western leaders and the UN as a precursor to an illegal annexation — is taking place in the Russia-held Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Zelenskyy calls on Russian troops to surrender
In his daily address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an appeal to Russians, saying their president was knowingly "sending citizens to their death."
"It is better not to take a conscription letter than to die in a foreign land as a war criminal," he added.
In Russian, Zelenskyy called on Moscow's forces to surrender, saying: "You will be treated in a civilised manner... no one will know the circumstances of your surrender."
Zelenskyy's address came just hours after Russia passed a law toughening punishments for voluntary surrender and desertion.
Lavrov slams West for 'grotesque' Russophobia at UNGA
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sharply criticized Western nations for their "grotesque" fear of Russia, telling the United Nations that such states were seeking to "destroy" his country.
"The official Russophobia in the West is unprecedented, now the scope is grotesque," Lavrov said in a fiery UN General Assembly speech. "They are not shying away from declaring the intent to inflict not only military defeat on our country but also to destroy and fracture Russia."
Lavrov also ran through a long list of Russian tropes justifying the invasion of Ukraine, ranging from alleged "neo-Nazi" leadership in Kyiv through the supposed banning of the Russian language and attempts to reclaim Crimea, which Russia has considered its own territory since 2014.
He also accused the United States of trying to turn the entire world into its own backyard through sanctions and "playing with fire" around Taiwan.
China calls on Russia, Ukraine not to let war 'spill over'
Addressing the UN General Assembly, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Russia and Ukraine not to let effects of their war "spill over" and called for a diplomatic resolution.
"We call on all parties concerned to keep the crisis from spilling over and to protect the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries," Wang said. He also called for "fair and pragmatic" peace talks to resolve all global issues.
"China supports all efforts conducive to the peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. The pressing priority is to facilitate talks for peace," the Chinese minister said.
According to Wang, the fundamental solution is "to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture."
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged Chinese "concerns" about Ukraine during a meeting with his counterpart Xi Jinping. Before the war, Putin had visited Beijing and the two nations declared a tight alliance.
Meanwhile, Wang told the UN that Taiwan was rightfully China's and that any who got in the way of Beijing reclaiming the self-governing island would be "crushed by the wheels of history."
More than 730 detained in anti-mobilization protests across Russia — NGO
More than 730 people were detained across Russia at protests against a partial call-up of reservists, a rights group said, three days after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's first partial mobilization since World War II.
Over 300 protesters were detained in Moscow and nearly 150 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors political arrests in Russia. Some of the arrested individuals were minors, OVD-Info said.
The group said it was aware of detentions in 32 different cities. Unsanctioned rallies are illegal under Russian law, which also forbids any activity deemed defamatory towards the armed forces.
Russia increases penalties for refusal to fight
President Vladimir Putin signed into law several amendments to Russia's criminal code on Saturday.
These include increasing prison time for those who desert or refuse to show up for service, or those who voluntarily surrender. Prison time has been increased up to 10 years in each instance.
Harsher penalties were also introduced for soldiers who refused to abide by their orders and those who take part in looting.
Another law signed by Putin also opens the way for non-Russians to more easily acquire Russian citizenship if they enlist in the Russian army.
The amendments follow a partial mobilization that has seen hundreds of thousands of men called to join the frontline in Ukraine and has triggered the biggest protests since the beginning of the war.
Russia's top logistics general removed from post
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that it was replacing the high-ranking general serving as deputy defense minister in charge of logistics following a largely successful counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks.
"Army General Dmitry Bulgakov has been relieved of the post of deputy minister of defense," the ministry said, adding that he will be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev.
The 60-year-old Mizintsev is already under British sanctions for his role in the heavy attacks employed by Russian forces — which killed thousands of civilians — during the siege of the southern city of Mariupol.
Analysts believe that Russian authorities are looking for who to blame for the failure to hold off Ukrainian advances. Logistics have frequently been seen as a Russian weakness.
The new logistics chief will also have to deal with the hundreds of thousands of reserves who have just been called up from all across Russia to go to the frontline in Ukraine.
Russia striking dams to prevent Ukrainian advance, UK says
The UK's Ministry of Defence said in its daily intelligence update on Saturday that Russian missiles hit two more dams in recent days, following the strike on the Karachunivske dam on September 15 that caused large-scale damage in Kryvyi Rih.
The intelligence report said Russian forces are likely targeting dams in order to slow down the Ukrainian forces that "are advancing further downstream along both rivers" — the Siverskyy and Donets rivers.
The ministry said Russian commanders are "increasingly concerned" by Ukrainian advances, but that the attacks on the dams "are unlikely to have caused significant disruption to Ukrainian operations due to the distance between the damaged dams and the combat zones."
More Ukraine-related content on DW
A former adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Andrei Illarionov, told DW his thoughts regarding Putin's televised speech on September 21. During that address, Putin announced the "referendums" in the four occupied regions of Ukraine and made a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons.
Illarionov said he sees the influence of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Putin's recent decisions.
ab/wd (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)