Referendums dismissed by the West as "shams" in four Russian-held regions of Ukraine all won overwhelming support of voters, Russian election officials said Wednesday.
Russian-installed Central Elections Committees said voter turnout exceeded 90% in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia and was 79% in Kherson. But Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov said less than 1% of Zaporizhzhia residents voted.
"I am expressing my gratitude to the people of Melitopol for their unwavering stance of resistance to the enemy," Fedorov said.
Russian leaders in the regions said they would lobby Russian President Vladimir Putin to quickly incorporate the provinces into Russia, the state-run Tass news agency reported. Putin is expected to do so within days or weeks.
In-person voting was held only Tuesday, the last day of voting.
On Friday through Monday, election commission staffers walked their precincts with portable ballot boxes from house to house or set up temporary outdoor voting outlets in the neighborhoods. The Associated Press reported that armed troops went door-to-door with election officials to collect ballots.
The U.S. proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the vote, and Ukraine called for tougher sanctions against Russia while vowing to reclaim the provinces. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, called the ballots "illegal" and the results "falsified."
"This is another violation of Ukraine's sovereignty + territorial integrity, amidst systematic abuses of human rights," Borrell tweeted.
►The three pipeline leaks pumping huge volumes of natural gas into the Baltic Sea could discharge the equivalent of one-third of Denmark's total annual greenhouse gas emissions, a Danish official warned Wednesday. European leaders have said sabotage is suspected to have caused the leaks.
►Vyacheslav Volodin, the head of the State Duma of Russia, proposed seizing the cars abandoned on the border by those who fled the country to avoid enlistment and giving them to families of Russian soldiers.
►Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said separation referendums in four Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine complicate efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
U.S. grants Ukraine another $1.1 billion in military aid, including 18 HIMARS
The Pentagon on Wednesday announced $1.1 billion in additional military aid for Ukraine, including 18 precision, long-range rocket artillery systems that have been key to recent military gains by Ukraine.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems will be purchased and shipped over the next few years for Ukraine's long-term needs, according to a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon. The U.S. has already sent Ukraine 16 HIMARS launchers, and western allies have provided 10 more.
The rockets have a range of more than 40 miles and have been used by Ukrainian troops to devastate Russian ammunition depots, supply lines and logistics hubs, the official said.
Other equipment will be sent faster, including 150 Humvees, 150 trucks and radar systems, the official said. That equipment will arrive in six months to two years.
The U.S. has provided Ukraine with $19 billion in military aid since 2014, including $16.9 billion under the Biden administration.
- Tom Vanden Brook
Americans warned to get out of Russia
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a security alert for Americans in Russia, warning them to depart "immediately while limited commercial travel options remain." The embassy cited the ongoing military mobilization in Russia to boost troops for the war in Ukraine.
"Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals' U.S. citizenship, deny their access to U.S. consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service," it said.
VP Harris condemns 'Putin's war,' won't say if fleeing Russians are welcome in US
More than 250,000 men left Russia in the first four days after President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization, according to Novaya Gazeta Europe, which also reported that Putin may soon close the borders.
Three countries that share a border with Russia - Kazakhstan, Georgia and Finland - received more than 194,000 of those fleeing enlistment, prompting Finnish officials to impose restrictions on Russians trying to enter.
During a meeting with reporters on her current trip to Japan, Vice President Kamala Harris was asked Wednesday whether Russian men escaping the draft would be welcome in the U.S. She didn't exactly answer the question.
"What Putin's war is doing is creating massive destruction in Ukraine, and I support all good people standing up in a principled way to articulate that it is an aggression that is in violation of basic tenets of the importance of supporting and protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity,'' Harris said.
"And I do believe that in moments like this, all people should have the freedom and the courage to stand and speak about the outrageousness of the aggression and the consequences of that aggression to human life and stability in that region.''
President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation's cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, which beings Oct. 1. Less than 20,000 have been admitted in the current budget year.
Contributing: Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Russia poised to annex 4 Ukraine regions