- Russian annexation of four regions around the world condemned
- Movement is ‘dangerous escalation’ endangering peace – UN chief
- Ukrainian Zelenskyy says that in order for the war to end, Putin must be stopped
- Selenskyj convenes emergency meeting on security and defense
SAPOROZHIA, Ukraine, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Russian forces in Ukraine came close to one of their worst defeats of the war on Friday, even as President Vladimir Putin was due to announce the annexation of territory captured in his invasion.
The pro-Russian leader of the Occupied Territories in Ukraine’s Donetsk province acknowledged that his forces had lost full control of the villages of Dobryshev and Yampil, leaving Moscow’s main garrison in northern Donetsk in the town of Lyman half-encircled.
The Ukrainian army “at all costs is trying to spoil our historical events,” Denis Pushilin said, referring to an annexation ceremony he was supposed to attend with Putin in the Kremlin.
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“It’s very unpleasant news, but we have to take a sober look at the situation and draw conclusions from our mistakes.”
Elsewhere, rockets sped through a convoy of civilian cars preparing to enter the Russian-occupied zone from Ukrainian territory, killing at least 23 civilians. Ukrainian officials called it a deliberate Russian attempt to cut the last frontline connections. Moscow blamed Kyiv.
Putin was to lead the Kremlin ceremony, followed by a pop concert in Red Square to celebrate Europe’s biggest territorial annexation since Hitler.
But the event seemed likely to be overshadowed by the fall of Lyman, which would signal the collapse of Russian forces in northern Donetsk and pave the way for Kyiv to advance deep into Russian-held territory just as Putin was declaring it annexed.
Kyiv remained silent on the situation in Lyman, but pro-Russian military blogs reported that Ukrainian forces nearly surrounded thousands of Russian troops, preventing them from escaping. Pushilin said a road to Lyman was still open but acknowledged it was now under Ukrainian artillery fire.
Friday’s rocket attack in Zaporizhia was gruesome even by the standards of a conflict in which Russia has leveled entire cities. It came amid several other attacks on Friday, which hit civilian targets in Ukrainian-held territory along the frontline on the morning of the planned Russian annexation celebration.
The motorcade gathered in a parking lot to try to cross into Russian-held territory near Zaporizhia, the Ukrainian-held capital of a region Moscow is said to be annexing. A checkpoint in the area has been open for the past few days, allowing civilians to cross the front lines.
A crater had been torn in the ground near two rows of vehicles. The impact had thrown chunks of dirt into the air and sprayed shrapnel on cars laden with belongings, blankets and suitcases. Reuters saw around a dozen bodies.
Plastic sheets were draped over the bodies of a woman and a young man in a green car. A dead cat lay next to the young man in the back seat. Two bodies lay in a white minivan in front of another car, the windows of which had been blown out and the sides riddled with shrapnel. The body of an elderly woman lay nearby, next to her shopping bag.
“So far 23 dead and 28 wounded. All civilians,” Oleksandr Starukh, regional governor of Zaporizhia wrote on Telegram. “The occupiers beat defenseless Ukrainians. This is another terrorist attack by a terrorist country.”
A woman, who gave her name as Nataliya, said she and her husband have visited their children in Zaporizhia and are preparing to return to Russian-occupied territory.
“We returned to my mother, who is 90 years old. We were spared. It’s a miracle,” she said, standing by her car with her husband.
Police Colonel Sergey Uyryumov, head of the explosives disposal unit of the Zaporizhia Police Department, said the market was hit by three S300 missiles.
Pro-Russian officials said without evidence that Ukraine was to blame for the attack. Russia has always denied its armed forces targeting civilians, despite countless confirmed incidents documented by the United Nations and other organizations.
Russia’s annexation of the Russian-held territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, held after what the West denounces as mock referees staged at gunpoint, has been condemned in the West and beyond.
UN chief Antonio Guterres spoke of a “dangerous escalation” and a violation of the United Nations Charter.
“It can still be stopped. But to stop it, we have to stop this person in Russia who wants war more than life. Your lives, citizens of Russia,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a speech on Thursday evening.
Ever since his troops were forced to flee Ukraine’s Kharkiv province this month, Putin has decided to escalate the war. Last week he approved the annexation of Russian territory, ordered the call-up of hundreds of thousands of reservists and threatened to use nuclear weapons if Russia was attacked.
On Friday, the Kremlin reiterated its claim that all attacks on areas it is now annexing are attacks on Russia itself. Ukraine has announced that it will retake all of its territory.
Zelenskyy pledged a strong response to the annexations and called his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday, an official said.
On the eve of the annexation ceremony, Putin said “all mistakes” should be corrected in his military call-up, his first public admission of problems with the mass arrests of hundreds of thousands of Russian men since last week.
Tens of thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid conscription. Western countries say Moscow is sending unprepared troops to the front lines with little or no training and inadequate equipment. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said troops have been urged to buy their own first aid kits.
Putin’s draft order did not specify who must be drafted. Russian officials said older men or those with no military experience should be exempt, but men in their 50s and students were drafted. Members of ethnic minorities say they have been particularly targeted, sparking unrest in southern Russia and Siberia.
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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Peter Graff; Edited by Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan
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