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Russian Strike Kills 25 Amid Annexation09/30 06:08

   Russia pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones, 
with one strike reported to have killed 25 people, as it moved Friday to fold 
more seized Ukrainian territory into Russia itself and under the protection of 
its nuclear umbrella, opening an internationally condemned dangerous new phase 
of the seven-month war.

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets 
and suicide drones, with one strike reported to have killed 25 people, as it 
moved Friday to fold more seized Ukrainian territory into Russia itself and 
under the protection of its nuclear umbrella, opening an internationally 
condemned dangerous new phase of the seven-month war.

   But even as it prepared to celebrate the incorporation into Russia of four 
occupied Ukrainian regions, defying international law and the prospect of 
further Western sanctions, the Kremlin was facing another stinging battlefield 
loss. Russian and Western analysts reported the imminent Ukrainian encirclement 
of the city of Lyman, that -- if retaken -- could open the path for Ukraine to 
push deep into one of the very regions that Russia is annexing.

   Salvos of Russian strikes reported in four Ukrainian cities together 
amounted to the heaviest barrage that Russia has unleashed for weeks. It 
follows analysts' warnings that Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to 
dip more heavily into his dwindling stocks of precision weapons and step up 
attacks as part of a strategy to escalate the war to an extent that would 
shatter Western support for Ukraine.

   In the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, anti-aircraft missiles that Russia 
has repurposed as ground-attack weapons rained down on people who were waiting 
in cars to cross into Russian-occupied territory, so they could 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 strike left deep impact craters and sent shrapnel tearing through the 
humanitarian convoy's lined-up vehicles, killing their passengers. Nearby 
buildings were demolished. Trash bags, blankets and, for one victim, a 
blood-soaked towel, were used to cover bodies.

   Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces for the 
strike, but provided no evidence.

   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, and that also damaged 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.

   The attacks come as Moscow prepares Friday to annex four occupied regions, 
likely including territory that it doesn't actually control. The Kremlin paved 
the way for the land-grabs with "referendums," sometimes at gunpoint, that 
Ukraine and its Western backers universally dismissed as rigged shams. Those 
regions include areas near Zaporizhzhia, but not the city itself, which remains 
in Ukrainian hands.

   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.

   Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, called an emergency 
meeting of his National Security and Defense Council and denounced the latest 
barrage of Russian strikes.

   "The enemy rages and seeks revenge for our steadfastness and his failures," 
he posted on his Telegram channel. "You will definitely answer. For every lost 
Ukrainian life!"

   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.

   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 
nations are on an increasingly escalatory collision course.

   That was underscored by the fighting for the city of Lyman, some 160 
kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

   A key node for Russian military operations in the contested Donbas region, 
it is sought-after prize for a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has had 
spectacular success since its launch in late August. Retaking Lyman could allow 
Kyiv to push into deeper into Russian-occupied Luhansk, which would be a 
stinging blow for Moscow after its stage-managed "referendum" there.

   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."

   Ukraine is also keeping close watch of its Russia-allied neighbor to the 
north, Belarus, which the Kremlin used as a staging ground for its ultimately 
defeated initial attempt to Kyiv in the opening stage of the invasion. The 
ongoing development of airfields, barracks and warehouses at two Belorussian 
military bases suggests that Russia may again try to use Belarus as a launch 
pad to open another front in the war, said Oleksii Hromov, a senior commander 
in the Ukrainian armed forces' General Staff

   Heightening the tensions are Russia's partial military mobilization and 
allegations of sabotage of two Russian pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor that 
were designed to feed natural gas to Europe.

   Ukraine's Western supporters have described the Kremlin-orchestrated votes 
on whether to live under Russian rule as bald-faced land grabs based on lies. 
They say some people were forced to vote at gunpoint, without independent 
observers on territory from which thousands of residents have fled or been 
forcibly deported.

   In unusually strong language, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told 
reporters Thursday in New York that Russia's annexation would violate the U.N. 
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.

 
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