Heavy fighting raged across various parts of Ukraine on Tuesday, as the referenda organised by Moscow in occupied parts of the country drew to a close.
The referenda, which have been dismissed by both the West and Ukraine as a "sham," is widely seen as a precursor to Russia formally annexing the regions of Ukraine it currently occupies, largely in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Four days of voting have occurred in total, during which widespread allegations of fraud and intimidation were levelled against Moscow-backed ruling authorities in the occupied regions.
Heavy fighting on multiple fronts
Heavy clashes between the military forces of the two countries continued to rage on Tuesday -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that the Donetsk region in the east remained both his country's as well as Russia's top strategic priority, with fighting engulfing several towns as Russian troops try to advance to the south and west.
Simultaneously, in the northeastern Kharkiv region -- where Kyiv won a stunning victory earlier this month that saw Russian forces routed from the area -- Ukrainian forces pressed on with a campaign to put out of action four bridges and other river crossings to disrupt Russian supply lines.
Meanwhile, in the southern Kherson region, the Ukrainian military's Southern Command said on Tuesday that its counter offensive in Kherson had resulted in enemy losses of 77 servicemen, six tanks, five howitzers, three anti-aircraft installations and 14 armoured vehicles. These claims cannot be independently verified.
Moscow's goal is annexation
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have a clear-cut goal: the annexation of the provinces of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, in the east and south, which together make up about 15 percent of Ukraine's land area, as well as nearly 10 percent of its population.
If Russia were to go ahead and annex these territories, it would mark a dangerous new escalation in an already very deadly war -- Putin has issued a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons to protect Russian soil, which would include the four provinces if annexed.
Voting on whether to join Russia began on Friday in the regions and is due to end today, after which the Russian parliament is expected to approve the annexation, possibly within days.
Russia's allies grow uneasy
In a sign of how egregious a violation of international law this proposed annexation would be, even some of Russia's closest allies have either refused to condone it or outright said that they would not recognise its results.
Even Serbia -- one of Russia's closest allies and one of the few European countries to not have sanctioned Moscow -- has stated that it would not be recognising the results of the referenda.
Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said that to do so would be "completely contrary" to his country's policy of "preserving territorial integrity and sovereignty and... commitment to the principle of inviolability of borders," presumably referring to his own country's non-recognition of the breakaway region of Kosovo, which Serbia views as having been illegally separated from the country by NATO's use of armed force.
Kazakhstan, one of Russia's close ex-Soviet partners, will also not be recognising any possible annexation of Ukraine's eastern regions by Russia through referendums held there, the Central Asian nation's foreign ministry said on Monday.
"As for the holding of referendums ... Kazakhstan proceeds from the principles of territorial integrity of states, their sovereign equivalence and peaceful coexistence," ministry spokesman Aibek Smadiyarov said.
This announcement came even though Russia deployed paratroopers to Kazakhstan at the request of its president to help "stabilise" the country, following violent protests triggered by a rise in fuel prices, which led to dozens of deaths.