23 killed in Russian attack as Kremlin annexes regions of Ukraine


Kyiv, UKRAINE (AP) — A Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia has killed at least 23 people and injured dozens more, officials said Friday, as Moscow escalates its seven-month war. said hours before planning to annex Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said in an online statement on Friday that at least 28 people were injured when Russian forces targeted a humanitarian convoy heading to the Russian-occupied territory.

He posted images of burnt-out cars and dead bodies lying on the road. Russia did not immediately approve the strike.

The attack comes as Russia prepares to annex four regions to Russia after an internationally criticized referendum at gunpoint as part of its invasion of Ukraine. These regions include the area near Zaporizhia, but not the city itself, which remains in Ukrainian hands.

Starukh said the convoy was to travel to the Russian-occupied territory to pick up relatives and take them to safety. He said rescue workers were at the scene of the attack.

The annexation, as well as planned celebratory concerts and rallies in Moscow and the occupied territories, will take place days after voters are believed to have approved a Moscow-administered “referendum.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that four regions of Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia – would be integrated into Russia at a Kremlin ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin. rice field. Peskov said pro-Moscow administrators of the region will sign a treaty to join Russia in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George Hall.

In a clear response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called an emergency meeting of the National Security and Defense Council on Friday.

Zelensky also tried to capitalize on Russia’s anti-war sentiment by releasing a special video aimed at ethnic minorities in Russia, especially the people of Dagestan, one of the poorer regions of the North Caucasus.

“You don’t have to die in Ukraine,” he says, wearing a black hoodie that says in English, “I am Ukrainian,” in front of a Kyiv plaque commemorating what he called a hero of Dagestan. stood. He called on ethnic minorities to resist the mobilization.

The United States and its allies have pledged to adopt even more sanctions than they have already imposed on Russia and provide millions of dollars in additional aid to Ukraine. This is because the Kremlin replicates the annexation plan it followed when it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Putin issued a decree recognizing the independence of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions early Friday morning, a step he took in February on Luhansk and Donetsk and earlier on Crimea.

Ukraine has repeated its vows to retake four regions and Crimea. Meanwhile, Russia is committed to defending all its territories, including newly annexed territories, by all available means, including nuclear weapons.

Adding to the tension are Russia’s partial military mobilization and allegations of sabotage against two Russian pipelines under the Baltic Sea designed to supply Europe with natural gas. Adding to the Kremlin’s predicament is Ukraine’s success in reclaiming some of the very land Russia is trying to annex, and the mobilization problem President Vladimir Putin acknowledged on Thursday.

Western supporters of Ukraine describe the gradual referendum on whether to live under Russian rule as a bald-faced land grab based on lies. They say some have been forced to vote at gunpoint in elections without independent observers in areas where thousands of residents have fled or been deported.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters in New York on Thursday that Russia’s annexation would violate the UN Charter and would have “no legal value”, in unusually strong terms. He described the move as a “dangerous escalation” and said it “should not be accepted.”

“Any decision by Russia to move forward would further jeopardize its prospects for peace,” Guterres said.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which exercises veto power, Russia has a “special responsibility” to respect the UN Charter, the secretary-general said.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Guterres conveyed the message to Vasily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, on Wednesday.

The Washington-based War Research Institute said Ukrainian forces could soon encircle Lyman in a major blow to Moscow’s war effort. Lyman lies 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkov, his second largest city in Ukraine.

Citing a Russian report, the Institute said, “The collapse of Lyman Pocket is of great importance to Russian groups in the northern Donetsk and western Luhansk regions, as Ukrainian forces threaten Russian positions along western Luhansk. It could make it possible,” he said.