Ukraine's Kherson Province Might Be Next to Hold Referendum

Ukraine's Kherson Province Might Be Next to Hold Referendum

Crimea is now a part of the Russian Federation, and other parts of Ukraine with ethnic Russian populations are buzzing. Pro-Russians in the Kherson Oblast province might be pushing to secede from Ukraine as well. But the mayor of the city of Kherson angrily voiced opposition to any thought of leaving Ukraine.

“We will not allow the country to be broken up further,” Mykola Mikolayenko, mayor of the province’s similarly named capital city, told a packed city council meeting Friday, where a referendum had been expected to be introduced. “If [pro-Russia] city council members want Kherson to join Russia, they better think again. It won’t be tolerated. This is treason.”

Fox News reports Mikolayenko received a phone call from someone who claimed members of deposed President Viktor Yanukovych’s party were planning a referendum similar to Crimea’s referendum. Nothing was presented to him, and he believes “the effort is a maneuver coordinated by Russia to make it appear as though a groundswell of support for secession exists.”

Kherson Governor Yuri Odarchenko warned citizens of the province against any rebellion, and Mikolayenko held a forum to discuss the situation between Russia and Ukraine. Kherson is very important because it links Crimea to Ukraine’s mainland. Members of Yanukovych’s party did not attend the meeting, but those who were there “criticized the Russian invasion of Crimea and spoke out against separatism.” However, with a lot of ethnic Russians in the area, a vote might go in Russia’s favor.

The vast majority of residents of Kherson province are Russian speakers, with Ukrainian Surzhik (a mix of Russian and Ukrainian) spoken in rural areas. Almost three quarters of the population of 1.2 million identify themselves as Ukrainians and 20 percent consider themselves Russian, according to official statistics. Still, with the ethnic division widening and Russia’s willingness to get involved, it is not clear how a vote might go.

The province has a huge ethnic Russian population, and a vote – particularly with politicking from Russia – could go against Kiev as did last Sunday’s referendum in Crimea. In addition to a major push from ethnic Russian politicians, the proposal in Kherson could be boosted by the presence of Russian soldiers, pro-Moscow protesters and the kind of propaganda Ukraine accused Moscow of engaging in before the Crimea vote.

This is not the first time Russia is accused of rousing pro-Russians in different areas. Russia’s ambassador to Lativia told a radio station Moscow is ready to grant citizenship to ethnic Russians in the country. They also raised alarms when a Moscow diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council that Russia wants to protect the language rights of ethnic Russians in Estonia. 

Putin said he has no intention of invading Ukraine’s mainland, but he did move soldiers to the border and have the troops practice military exercises. Moscow said it was to familiarize the soldiers with the land. No one believes Putin, and countries are taking precautions to protect their borders.