Just days after ordering a partial mobilization, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed amendments toughening punishment for voluntary surrender and refusal to fight by up to 10 years in prison.

Following the mobilization designed to increase the ranks of his army fighting a military operation in Ukraine, a separate law facilitating access to Russian citizenship for foreigners who enlist in the Russian army was also signed.

Drawing condemnation from Kiev and Western nations who dismissed the ongoing voting in four captured regions as a sham and pledged not to recognize their results. Russia launched referendums on Friday aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine.

The Kremlin appears to be trying to regain the upper hand in the grinding conflict with Putin also announcing a military draft this week to enlist 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine.

Addressing people in parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “Hide from Russian mobilization in any way you can. Avoid draft orders. Try to move to the territory of free Ukraine.”

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of people have been killed while millions of Ukrainians have fled the country.

Tass cited a local official as saying that the turnout on Friday was 23.6 per cent in the Donetsk region.

Starobilsk’s population was banned from leaving and people were being forced out of homes to vote, according to Ukraine’s Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai.

Condemning the votes as an illegitimate precursor to illegal annexation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decried the “fake referendums”.

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