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Russia expected to annex Ukraine territory within days

STORY: As Russia moves closer to annexing parts of Ukraine, Ukrainians are fleeing those Russian-occupied territories, dismissing the results of a five-day vote that showed strong support for joining Russia.

So-called referendums - that Kyiv and the West have widely discredited as illegal shams.

Ukrainians here, at a reception center for evacuees, said people were forced to tick ballots in the street by roving officials at gunpoint.

“No one was interested in your opinion. You simply have to tick the box (in the ballot)."

But here in Moscow, preparations for the impending annexation moved swiftly.

This stage has been set up in the Red Square with giant video screens, and billboards reading "Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson - Russia!"

Those four provinces that stand to be annexed make up about 15% of Ukrainian territory altogether.

On Wednesday the Russia-installed administrations of those four provinces formally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to incorporate them into Russia.

Putin could proclaim the annexation in a speech within days, and has warned he would use nuclear weapons to protect any Russian territory from attack.

And in a series of calls to rally international support against annexation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke to the leaders of countries, including Britain, Canada, Germany and Turkey, to press for more military aid and tougher sanctions on Moscow.

"Thank you all for your clear and unequivocal support. Thank you all for understanding our position. Ukraine cannot and will not tolerate any attempt by Russia to seize any part of our land."

U.S. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Washington would send more financial aid to assist Ukraine.

"Today, the United States is announcing an additional 1.1 billion dollar package of weapons and equipment for Ukraine through the Ukraine security assistance initiative."

The announcement brings the total U.S. security aid to $16.2 billion.

Washington and the EU also said they would impose more economic costs on Moscow.

"We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation."

Ursula von der Leyen is the EU Commission President.

"So we propose sweeping new import bans on Russian products. This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of an additional 7 billion euros in revenues. We're also proposing to extend the list of products that cannot be exported to Russia any more. The aim is here to deprive the Kremlin’s military complex of key technologies."

That would add to sanctions already levied against Moscow since its invasion of Ukraine in February, which it calls a 'special military operation'.