The so-called referendums — which Ukraine, the U.S. and others have denounced as shams — are widely viewed as an initial Kremlin move toward formal Russian annexation of the territories.
Men are fleeing Russia by land or air days after President Vladimir Putin said he was mobilizing more forces into Ukraine. NPR met Russians arriving in Turkey, where they don't need visas to enter.
The mobilization of thousands more troops to bolster the military campaign in Ukraine is rippling across Russia, as the military swiftly drafts new recruits and signs of discontent appear to spread.
Ukrainians are fleeing from Russian-held areas to avoid the sham referendums, which could pave the way for annexation. "It was all staged," said one Ukrainian. "How can you vote when they have guns?"
Villagers describe allegations of abuse and officials say they found a torture chamber in Kozacha Lopan, in the Kharkiv region, which Russian forces invaded and took over at the start of the war.
The Russian leader has already lost several big bets in Ukraine. He may be taking his largest risk yet by mobilizing more troops and pushing ahead with plans to annex Ukrainian territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday a partial mobilization in Russia as the war in Ukraine reaches nearly seven months and Moscow loses ground on the battlefield.
Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced. Four-legged Ukrainians are also suffering, but there are groups working to help the animals.
Catch up on key developments and the latest in-depth coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Europe's largest nuclear plant will remain shut down until Russian forces leave, the head of Ukraine's atomic energy agency tells NPR. Under Russian occupation, he says, "staff cannot operate freely."
The Kremlin made its first public response following Ukraine's success on the battlefield in recent days.
Before the war, the first day of school in Ukraine was a joyous celebration. As nearly 4 million students return to school this month, children and educators are desperate for a sense of normalcy.
Antony Blinken is on a trip to Kyiv, where he visited a children's hospital and met with U.S. Embassy staff. The U.S. announced nearly $3 billion in aid and weapons for Ukraine and other countries.
While many Chechen fighters have deployed in Ukraine for Russia, this group is there to defend the country from the Russians.