Attack Kills 25 In Ukraine Ahead Of Kremlin Annexation

Residents charge their mobile phones outside a humanitarian centre in Izyum, eastern Ukraine, on 29 September 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Juan BARRETO / AFP)

 

An attack on a frontline civilian convoy killed at least 25 people in southern Ukraine on Friday, just hours before Moscow was due to annex four occupied Ukrainian regions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to formally annex Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Lugansk, which his forces mostly control, at a grand Kremlin ceremony later on Friday.

He has warned he could use nuclear weapons to retain control of the territory as the United States leads Western allies in vowing “never” to recognise the regions as anything other than part of Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the annexations would be formalised at an event at (1200 GMT) during which Putin would deliver a “major” speech.

But early on Friday, an attack in Zaporizhzhia in the south, killed at least 25 people as civilians were preparing to leave to pick up relatives, Ukrainian officials said.

“Twenty-five killed and about 50 wounded in an attack by the Russian military on a humanitarian convoy in Zaporizhzhia. Investigation launched,” said the prosecutor general’s office on Telegram.

Bodies of people wearing civilian clothes were left on the ground after the attack and windows of cars blown out, an AFP photographer said.

“Only complete terrorists could do this,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Bloodthirsty scum! You will definitely answer,” he added.

READ ALSO: Russia To Annex More Ukraine Territories At Ceremony Friday

Some 20 percent of Ukraine

“The enemy launched rockets on a civilian convoy leaving the city centre,” said Zaporizhzhia governor Oleksandr Starukh.

But pro-Kremlin regional chief Vladimir Rogov accused Ukrainian troops of carrying out a “terrorist act”.

“The regime in Kyiv is trying to portray what happened as shelling by Russian troops, resorting to a heinous provocation,” he said on social media.

Preparations were underway in Moscow’s Red Square for state-organised celebrations to announce the annexation of Zaporizhzhia and the three other regions.

Municipal workers were climbing scaffolding in advance to install huge banners emblazoned with: “Donetsk. Lugansk. Zaporizhzhia. Kherson. Russia!”

“I’m happy if they want to join Russia,” Natalya Bodner, a 37-year-old lawyer told AFP in central Moscow. “They have more hope than we do”.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” a Russian serviceman Ildar Babaev from the southern region of Dagestan said.

“This is the right decision”.

The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

‘Nobody believes it’

But the Kremlin said Friday it “needed to clarify” the exact borders of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — neither fully controlled by Moscow’s forces — that it intends to annex.

Together, all five regions including Crimea, make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, whose forces in recent weeks have been clawing back wins as part of a counter-offensive.

In Sloviansk, a city in Donetsk, a military medic who goes by the name of Coconut said the annexations were nonsense.

“If my neighbour comes to my house and announces that it’s his, nobody believes it actually belongs to him,” he told AFP.

In Kherson, Russian officials announced that Ukrainian strikes with US-supplied precision artillery systems had killed a senior security chief of the Russian-controlled region.

A “pinpoint” strike by Himars hit his house, Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian proxy administration said.

It was the latest of several targeted attacks on Russian-appointed officials in the region.

Security Council vote

Ukrainian forces are also on the doorstep of Lyman in Donetsk, which Moscow’s forces pummelled for weeks to capture this summer.

“Lyman is partially surrounded,” said Denis Pushilin, the pro-Moscow leader in the breakaway region of Donetsk, on social media. Two nearby villages were “not fully under our control,” he added.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden said the United States would “never, never, never” recognise Russian sovereignty over the territories set for annexation.

The four regions’ Kremlin-installed leaders this week assembled in the Russian capital ahead of the ceremony.

They formally requested annexation after claiming residents backed the move in hastily organised referendums that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as fraudulent.

Ukraine has said the West’s only appropriate response is to hit Russia with more sanctions and to supply Ukrainian forces with more weapons to keep reclaiming territory.

The UN Security Council will vote Friday on a resolution condemning the referendums, according to France, the council’s current president, but it has no chance of passing due to Moscow’s veto power.

Zelensky is calling an “urgent” meeting of his national security council for Friday, his spokesman said.

AFP

Emmanuel Egobiambu

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