A Russian missile strike has hit a humanitarian convoy in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, killing 25 people and injuring dozens more.
The convoy had been preparing to leave Ukrainian territory controlled by Kyiv to visit relatives and deliver supplies in an area occupied by Russia, officials said.
The assault came as Moscow moved to formally annex four Ukrainian regions including Zaporizhzhia – and amid reports Volodymyr Zelenskyy‘s forces have encircled the Russian stronghold of Lyman in the Donetsk region.
Highly stage-managed referenda in the Ukraine regions including Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson were held last week after which it was claimed residents had overwhelmingly voted to join Russia.
They were universally dismissed as rigged “shams” by Kyiv and its Western allies.
In Zaporizhzhia, anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has repurposed as ground-attack weapons were launched and rained down on people who were waiting in cars to cross into Russian-occupied territory to bring family members back across the front lines, said the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.
The general prosecutor’s office said 25 people were killed and 50 wounded.
The region’s Ukrainian governor, Oleksandr Starukh, posted images online of burnt vehicles and bodies lying in the road.
A crater had been gouged in the ground near two lines of vehicles.
He wrote on Telegram: “The occupiers struck defenceless Ukrainians. This is another terrorist attack by a terrorist country.”
Russian strikes were also reported in other cities including Dnipro, Mykolaiv and the Black Sea port city of Odesa.
High-rise buildings and buses were destroyed in the attack on Dnipro, where the regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, said at least one person was killed and five wounded by Iskander missiles.
In Mykolaiv, a Russian missile struck a high-rise building and wounded eight people, said Vitaliy Kim, the regional head.
Iranian-made suicide drones were launched by Russian forces from the Black Sea around Odesa, some of which were shot down by air defences while others struck targets, the Ukrainian air force’s command said.
The Russian strikes follow warnings by analysts that Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to step up attacks as part of a strategy to escalate the war to an extent that would shatter western support for Ukraine.
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But even as Moscow prepared to celebrate the incorporation into Russia of four occupied Ukrainian regions – in defiance of international law – there were reports by Russian and Western analysts that Ukrainian forces have surrounded the city of Lyman in the occupied Donetsk region.
Retaking Lyman – located around 100 miles southeast of Kharkiv – could allow Kyiv to push deep into Russian-occupied Luhansk, which would be a stinging blow for Moscow.
It has been a sought-after prize for a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has already had spectacular success since its launch in late August.