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Russian strike kills 30 people in civilian convoy

In this image released by the Police Press Service, the view from a drone shows the site of a Russian rocket attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. A Russian strike on the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia killed at least 23 people and wounded dozens, an official said Friday, just hours before Moscow planned to annex more of Ukraine in an escalation of the seven-month war. (Ukrainian Police Press Office via AP)
In this image released by the Police Press Service, the view from a drone shows the site of a Russian rocket attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. A Russian strike on the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia killed at least 23 people and wounded dozens, an official said Friday, just hours before Moscow planned to annex more of Ukraine in an escalation of the seven-month war. (Ukrainian Police Press Office via AP)

Russia has pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones, with one strike reported to have killed 30 people.

The assault came as Moscow moved to fold more seized Ukrainian territory into Russia itself and under the protection of its nuclear umbrella, opening an internationally condemned and dangerous new phase of the seven-month war.

But even as it prepared to celebrate the incorporation into Russia of four occupied Ukrainian regions, in defiance of international law, the Kremlin was facing another battlefield loss.

Russian and western analysts reported the imminent Ukrainian encirclement of the city of Lyman, which could open the path for Ukraine to push deep into one of the regions Russia is annexing.

Russia Ukraine War
Damaged cars in Zaporizhzhia (Viacheslav Tverdokhlib/AP)

Salvos of Russian strikes reported in four Ukrainian cities together amounted to the heaviest barrage Moscow has unleashed for weeks. It follows analysts’ warnings that 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 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 30 people were killed and 88 wounded. The Zaporizhzhia region’s Ukrainian governor, Oleksandr Starukh, posted images of burned-out vehicles which had been part of the humanitarian convoy, and of bodies lying in the road.

Russian strikes were also reported in the city of Dnipro. The regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, said at least one person was killed and five wounded by Iskander missiles that slammed into a transport 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.

Around the Black Sea port city of Odesa and the city of Mykolaiv, Russia launched Iranian-made suicide drones, some of which were shot down by air defences while others struck targets, the Ukrainian air force’s command said. It said Russia launched the drones from the Black Sea.

Russia Ukraine War
A crater left by a Russian attack in Kramatorsk (Leo Correa/AP)

Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia accused Ukrainian forces of carrying out the strike there on the humanitarian convoy, but provided no evidence.

The attacks came as Moscow prepares to annex four occupied regions, including territory that it does not control.

The Kremlin paved the way for the land-grabs with “referendums”, sometimes at gunpoint, that were universally dismissed as rigged shams by Ukraine and its western backers. Those regions include areas near Zaporizhzhia, but not the city itself, which remains in Ukrainian hands.

Four regions of Ukraine — Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — were folded into Russia during a Kremlin ceremony attended by Mr Putin.

He vowed to protect the newly incorporated regions using “all available means”.

In an apparent response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called an emergency meeting on Friday of his National Security and Defence Council.

UN General Assembly Ukraine
Volodymyr Zelensky (Julia Nikhinson/AP)

He also sought to capitalise on anti-war sentiment in Russia by issuing a special video directed at Russia’s ethnic minorities, especially those in Dagestan, one of the country’s poorer regions in the North Caucasus.

“You do not have to die in Ukraine,” he said, wearing a black hoodie that read in English “I’m Ukrainian”, standing in front of a plaque in Kyiv memorialising what he called a Dagestani hero. He called on the ethnic minorities to resist mobilisation.

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

Mr Putin early on Friday issued decrees recognising the independence of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, steps he had taken in February for Luhansk and Donetsk and earlier for Crimea.

Ukraine has repeated its vows to recapture the four regions, as well as Crimea. For its part, Russia pledges to defend all its territory — including newly annexed regions — by all available means, including nuclear weapons.

The fighting for the city of Lyman underscored the two nations’ collision course.

The city, 100 miles south east of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been a key base for Russian military operations in the contested Donbas region. That made it a sought-after prize for a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has had spectacular success since its launch in late August.