Russian strike kills 25, injures dozens in Zaporizhzhia as Kremlin to annex Ukraine regions

Ukraine’s president has condemned Russian missile strikes that killed at least 25 people in Zaporizhzhia and struck targets in Mykolaiv and Dnipro as the work of a “terrorist state.”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on his Telegram channel Friday that only “terrorists” would target civilians and accused Russia of trying to seek revenge against Ukraine for its “steadfastness” and to make up for its own battlefield failures.

He said the “enemy” Russia “cynically destroys peaceful Ukrainians because he lost everything human a long time ago” and warned that the country would answer “for every lost Ukrainian life.”

Ukraine’s Prosecutor’s Office said another 50 people were injured in the S-300 missile attack on a convoy of vehicles on Zaporizhzhia’s outskirts that officials said planned to ferry relatives back to safety from Russian-occupied territory.

The crater left by the missile strike is shown. (Kateryna Klochko/AFP/Getty Images)

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office said four of the missiles that were launched had struck the convoy area, causing impact craters several metres deep near cars whose windows had all been blown out. Some of the dead lay on the ground covered by trash bags, blankets and towels, while others remains in their vehicles.

The missile attack came as Moscow prepares to annex four regions into Russia following an internationally condemned, Kremlin-orchestrated “referendum” vote.

Ceremony to recognize annexed regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin was expected to give a major speech at a Kremlin ceremony to fold the Ukranian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia into Russia. Their pro-Moscow administrators would sign annexation treaties in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George’s Hall, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Putin also issued decrees recognizing the supposed independence of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, steps he previously took in February for Luhansk and Donetsk and earlier for Crimea.

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The U.S. and its allies have promised to pile even more sanctions on Russia and to offer billions of dollars in extra support for Ukraine as the Kremlin duplicates the annexation playbook it followed when it incorporated Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the U.S. would “never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine sovereign territory.”

As well, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters in New York that Russia’s annexation would violate the UN Charter and has “no legal value.” He described the move as “a dangerous escalation” and said it “must not be accepted.”

“Any decision by Russia to go forward will further jeopardize the prospects for peace,” Guterres said.

Ukraine in strong position in Lyman: analysis

With Ukraine vowing to take back all occupied territory and Russia pledging to defend its gains, and threatening nuclear-weapon use to do so, the two countries are on an increasingly escalatory collision course.

That was underscored by the fighting for the city of Lyman, some 160 kilometres southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

A destroyed building Russian troops were using as a command centre is seen on Thursday in Izium, Ukraine. Ukranian armed forces hit the command centre that was being used as a jail for captured troops. (Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)

A key node for Russian military operations in the contested Donbas region, it is a sought-after prize for a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has had spectacular success since its launch in late August.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said the city’s fall to Ukrainian forces “is imminent,” unless Russia can ward off the collapse with speedy reinforcements, which appeared “highly unlikely.”

Elsewhere, Russian strikes were also reported in the city of Dnipro. The regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, said at least one person was killed and five others were wounded by Russian Iskander missiles that slammed into a transportation company, destroying buses also damaging high-rise buildings.

In Mykolaiv, a Russian missile struck a high rise and wounded eight people, said the regional head, Vitaliy Kim.

Ukraine’s air force said Mykolaiv and the Black Sea port city of Odesa were also targeted again with Iranian-supplied suicide drones that Russia has increasingly deployed in recent weeks, seemingly to avoid losing more pilots who don’t have control of Ukraine’s skies.

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