Ukraine says Russians fired on an evacuation convoy, killing 20 people

Kyiv, Ukraine — A senior Ukrainian official said Russian forces shelled a civilian evacuation convoy in the north-east of the country on Saturday, killing 20 people. The bombing has intensified as Moscow illegally annexed part of Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of the war.

Kharkiv region governor Oleh Syniehubov said the convoy was attacked in the Kupiansy district and called the attack on people trying to flee the area to avoid being shot at “atrocities that cannot be justified.” can”.

Russian forces have neither acknowledged nor commented on the attack, apparently the second in two days to hit a humanitarian convoy. Russian troops have withdrawn from much of the Kharkiv region after a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive last month but continued shelling the area.

The attack comes at a crucial time in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. In the face of a Ukrainian counter-offensive, Putin stepped up threats of nuclear weapons this week and used his most aggressively anti-Western rhetoric yet.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military promised to continue fighting for the liberation of the annexed territories and other areas occupied by Russia.

Ukrainian officials said Saturday their forces had surrounded thousands of Russian forces holding the strategic eastern city of Lyman, located in one of the four incorporated territories. Zelenskyy formally applied for Ukraine to join NATO on Friday, increasing pressure on Western allies to defend the country.

Ukraine’s nuclear energy supplier also said on Saturday that Russian forces had blindfolded and arrested the director of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. It appeared to be an attempt to secure Moscow’s hold over the newly annexed territory.

Russian forces arrested Zaporizhia nuclear power plant director-general Ihor Murashov around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukrainian state-owned nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin signed deals to incorporate Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia, including the area around the nuclear power plant.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

Russia did not immediately admit to arresting the plant manager. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the facility, said it was aware of reports of Murashov’s capture and had contacted Russian authorities to clarify what happened.

“His detention by (Russia) endangers the security of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” Energoatom President Petro Kotin said, calling for the immediate release of the director.

The power plant was repeatedly caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued to operate it after Russian troops seized the power plant, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure due to the ongoing shelling nearby.

Amid mounting international sanctions and condemnation of Russia, a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has embarrassed the Kremlin appeared on the verge of retaking more ground.

A Ukrainian official said Saturday that the Russian-held town of Lyman was surrounded and about 5,000 Russian forces were trapped there. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai claimed that all routes supplying Russian forces in Lyman were blocked.

“The occupiers asked their leadership for the opportunity to leave, which they refused,” Haidai said in a television interview. “Now they have three choices: try a breakthrough, surrender, or die together.”

His claims could not be immediately verified. Russia has not confirmed that its forces have been cut off, and Russian analysts had said Moscow is sending more troops to the area.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine is likely to recapture Lyman in the coming days.

Citing Russian reports, the institute said it appeared Russian forces were withdrawing from Lyman, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. That matches online videos allegedly showing some Russian forces retreating just as a Ukrainian soldier said they had reached Lyman’s outskirts.

It said Ukraine was also making “incremental” gains around Kupiansk and the east bank of the Oskil River, which have become a key front line since Ukraine’s counter-offensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.

According to regional governor Vitaliy Kim, the Russian army twice attacked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv overnight, once with drones and the second time with rockets. The first attack was carried out with Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and the second with S-300 missiles, he told Telegram.

One of the rockets hit a five-story apartment building in the city center, while windows of surrounding houses were smashed. In another part of the city, a private house and a two-story apartment building were badly damaged. Five people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby, Kim said.

In its heaviest barrage in weeks, the Russian military on Friday bombarded Ukrainian cities with rockets, missiles and suicide drones, killing 30 and wounding 88 in a strike in the Zaporizhia region’s capital.

In a daily intelligence briefing on Saturday, Britain’s Defense Ministry said the Russians “almost certainly” hit a humanitarian convoy carrying S-300 anti-aircraft missiles there. Russia is increasingly using anti-aircraft missiles to conduct ground attacks, likely due to shortages of ammunition, the British military said.

“Russia is wasting strategically valuable military assets to gain a tactical advantage, killing civilians whom it now claims are its own citizens,” it said.

The attack came as Putin was preparing to sign the annexation treaties that included the Zaporizhia region. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhia blamed Ukrainian forces but gave no evidence.

Russia is now claiming sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine in what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described as “the largest attempt at forcible annexation of European territory since World War II”. The NATO chief met with the Danish prime minister on Saturday as part of an investigation into Russian pipeline explosions in the Baltic Sea.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Ukraine says Russians fired on an evacuation convoy, killing 20 people

Russell Falcon

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