A Russian missile strike killed at least 25 civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Ukrainian forces made military gains in the east hours before Russia declared its annexation of four regions of Ukraine on Friday.
Russian forces fired 16 S-300 missiles at areas near the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia, including a gathering point for Ukrainians preparing to cross the front line into Russian-occupied territory, said
an adviser to Ukrainian President
At least 50 people were also wounded in the attack, according to
the president’s chief of staff.
Mr. Tymoshenko posted images online of the attack that showed bodies and shattered glass lying on muddy ground next to lines of civilian cars. The S-300 is primarily an air-defense system that Russia has repurposed for ground attacks in inaccurate strikes that have killed civilians, according to Ukrainian authorities and military analysts.
Russian-installed leaders blamed Ukrainian forces for the attack, without citing evidence.
The Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia is one of four that Russian President
claimed as part of Russia on Friday in an escalation of the war. Russia doesn’t fully occupy any of those areas. Russian-backed authorities held a series of referendums on joining Russia in the territories. Ukraine and Western governments have rejected the votes as a sham exercise intended to confer legitimacy on Russia’s military occupation of parts of Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials say Russia is escalating a bombing campaign against civilian targets, including many that lie far behind the front lines of the war. Ukrainian officials have described the attacks as an effort to terrorize and psychologically wear down Ukraine’s general population during the war.
Mr. Tymoshenko cited other attacks on the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine that destroyed residential buildings and struck a local transportation company, sparking a huge fire that destroyed more than 50 buses and killed at least one person. Ukrainian authorities published images appearing to show flames engulfing a bus terminal.
Mr. Zelensky rejected Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory in his nightly address to the nation on Thursday night. He planned to meet with his top military and security leaders on Friday to decide on responses to the annexation, officials said.
“Russia will not get a new territory of Ukraine,” he said. “Russia will annex itself to the catastrophe that it has brought to the occupied territory of our country.”
Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and allied countries earlier on Friday said they “condemn in the strongest possible terms the plan to hold so-called ‘referenda’ on joining the Russian Federation in the Ukrainian regions partly controlled by the Russian military.” The countries said they don’t and will never recognize Moscow’s claims to sovereign Ukrainian territory.
The Russian decision to annex four regions of Ukraine—Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson—mirrors the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, a move that not even Russia’s closest allies recognized. Countries that have remained friendly with Russia during this year’s Ukraine war, including China and Turkey, have pushed back on the annexation plans.
The attacks on civilians and the annexation come after weeks in which Ukrainian forces have rolled back Russian gains in a lightning offensive in the country’s northeastern Kharkiv region this month. Faced with swift Ukrainian advances, Mr. Putin also called up hundreds of thousands of reservists and threatened nuclear strikes in an attempt to raise the stakes of the war, military analysts have said.
Ukrainian forces are close to encircling Russian troops in Lyman, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine, Russian military bloggers close to the Kremlin said on Friday. Russian forces remained in control of the town but faced a “high probability of retreat” from the area, said one of the bloggers, Roman Saponkov.
Photos posted on social media appeared to show Ukrainian troops in control of Yampil, a city to the southeast of Lyman.
Losing Lyman would be a major blow to the Kremlin’s war effort in eastern Ukraine. The town is a key logistics hub for Russian forces in Luhansk.
Separately, a Ukrainian military strike killed a Russian-installed leader in the occupied southern city of Kherson, Russian authorities acknowledged. A senior security official, Alexey Katerinichev, died in the strike, Russia’s state-run news agency TASS reported.
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