Vladimir Putin has declared that occupied parts of Ukraine are now part of Russia after staging sham referendums in four regions, vowing to use ‘all our forces to defend them’ as the war enters a dangerous new phase.
The Russian despot, speaking in front of his cronies in Moscow, gave his own warped interpretation of events – saying that ‘millions of people’ in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia had ‘opted’ to become vassals of Russia and he would accept their choice, despite voting being carried out at gunpoint and in the midst of a war.
‘They are our people, forever,’ he said to a standing ovation inside the Kremlin’s grand Georgian Hall before calling on Ukraine and its Western allies to abandon hopes of re-taking them, repeating a threat to use ‘all forces’ to defend the ‘new territories’ – once again raising fears that he could escalate to using Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal.
Putin’s word will be put to an almost-immediate test as thousands of Russian troops are currently thought to be encircled in Lyman, in the Donetsk region, with the city on the verge of falling and the troops either being captured or killed in the process – possibly within the next few hours.
Russia is also continuing to attack the regions it now claims as part of its own country, firing a rocket at a humanitarian convoy of cars in Zaporizhzhia earlier in the day – killing at least 25 civilians and wounding 50 in the process. The cars were heading into Russian-occupied territory to distribute aid, Ukrainian officials said.
At an official ceremony in St George’s Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace today, where marble plaques engraved in gold commemorate Russian military heroes, Putin will preside over a treaty-signing proclaiming the annexation of four regions of Ukraine – the breakaway People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia
Election officials carrying a clear ballot box (left) are let into an apartment block in occupied Ukraine accompanied by armed Russian cops (right)
President Zelensky branded Russia ‘bloodthirsty scum’ after the blast, adding: ‘Only complete terrorists could do this. You will definitely answer [for it]. For every lost Ukrainian life!’
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, one of Zelensky’s senior advisers, said Russia had fired a total of 16 S-300 anti-aircraft missiles at Ukrainian territory, four of which landed – destroying the queue of cars along with a nearby car market.
Photos from Zaporizhzhia showed a road littered with blown-out cars and at least two bodies lying on the ground, as survivors picked their way through the rubble.
One witness reported seeing about 12 bodies, four of them in cars, and said a missile had left a crater in the ground near two lines of vehicles at a car market.
The impact had thrown chunks of dirt ino the air and sprayed the vehicles with shrapnel. The windows of the vehicles – mostly cars and three vans, were blown out.
The vehicles were packed with belongings, blankets and suitcases.
In one of them, the body of a man was leaned from the driver’s seat into the passenger seat, his left hand still clutching the steering wheel.
Oleksandr Starukh, governor of Zaporizhzhia, wrote on Telegram: ‘ The enemy launched a rocket attack on a civilian humanitarian convoy on the way out of the regional center.
‘People stood in line to leave for the temporarily occupied territory, to pick up their relatives, to take away aid.
‘Rescuers, medics, and all relevant services are currently working at the site.’
Plastic sheets were draped over the bodies of a woman and young man in a green car in the next car in front. A dead cat lay next to the young man in the rear seat.
Two bodies lay in a white mini-van in front of that car, its windows blown and the sides pitted with shrapnel.
At least 25 civilians are dead and another 28 have been wounded after a Russian missile struck a convoy of cars heading out of the city of Zaporizhzhia towards Russian-occupied territory, Ukrainian officials have said
Medics provide support to the survivors of a missile strike which hit a humanitarian convoy heading out of the Ukrainian-occupied city of Zaporizhzhia into nearby Russian territory this morning
An aerial view shows how a single missile exploded close to the convoy, shredding the vehicles with shrapnel as people prepared to head into nearby Russian-occupied territory to visit relatives and distribute aid
A body lies underneath a sheet next to a humanitarian convoy of cars that was headed out of the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia towards Russian-occupied territory nearby to distribute aid
A view from the missile crater looking towards the cars shows the direction the shrapnel would have travelled before hitting the vehicles, killing or wounding the occupants
Russian missiles have struck a civilian convoy heading out of the Ukrainian-occupied city of Zaporizhzhia into nearby Russian-occupied territory, killing at least 25 people
A body lies underneath a blanket in Zaporizhzhia, a city in southern Ukraine, after a Russian airstrike hit a humanitarian convoy that was headed towards Russian-occupied territory
Ukrainian servicemen stand next to the body of a civilian killed by a missile strike near Zaporizhzhia
Emergency workers and investigators inspect the wreckage of vehicles left behind after the early-morning missile strike, which left at least 25 people dead and dozens hurt
The missile strike came just hours before President Putin plans to give a speech announcing that Zaporizhzhia – along with three other regions – will be annexed to Russia to ‘protect’ them
A Ukrainian solider inspects the wreckage of a van that was shredded by shrapnel from an early-morning missile strike near the city of Zaporizhzhia
The city of Zaporizhzhia is located in southern Ukraine and is under the control of Kyiv’s armed forces, but Russians occupy nearby territory which Putin plans to annex in a speech today
A woman who gave her name as Nataliya said she and her husband had been visiting their children in Zaporizhzhia.
‘We were returning to my mother who is 90 years old. We have been spared. Itâs a miracle,’ she said, standing with her husband beside their car.
Russia denied being responsible for the strike, instead blaming it on Ukraine.
It came ahead of a major speech that Putin will give in the Kremlin today, officially announcing his intention to annex occupied regions of Ukraine to Russia.
Russian-backed proxy-governments in four regions of Ukraine that Russian troops at least partially occupy – Kharkiv, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – have spent recent days staging referendums on the issue.
Conducted at gunpoint, they claim the ballots returned overwhelming majorities for joining the ‘motherland’.
Ukraine and its allies have denounced the votes as a sham and say they will never recognise the results, but the move never-the-less marks a turning point in the war.
From today, Putin will be able to spin the lie – to his own people at least – that Ukrainian efforts to liberate these regions are in fact attacks on Russia.
Provided the public buy into the lie, that would allow him to escalate the war in response – potentially up to and including the use of nukes.
Putin himself threatened to use nuclear arms in a speech last week, and his allies – including Dmitry Medvedev, head of the security council – have repeated the threat several times since then.
The Kremlin dictator last night signed decrees recognising Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the country’s south and east as states independent of Volodymyr Zelensky’s Government – a precursor to Putin’s deranged plot to illegally absorb 15% of Ukrainian territory into the Russian Federation.
Picture shows burning parking lot vehicles after the Russian attacks on the Dnipro region in Ukraine on Friday, September 30
Russia pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones this morning. PIctures show a fleet of buses destroyed in a missile strike on Dnipro
Under an amendment to the Russian constitution made in 2020, Putin and his predecessors are forbidden from ceding any territory once acquired – meaning once the annexation is completed today, it will be irreversible unless Ukraine can successfully recapture the stolen land. Even a partial withdrawal as part of a future peace deal with Kyiv will become impossible.
At an official ceremony in St George’s Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace today, where marble plaques engraved in gold commemorate Russian military heroes, Putin will preside over a treaty-signing proclaiming the annexation of four regions of Ukraine – the breakaway People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
The Russian annexation will then be followed by planned celebratory concerts and rallies in the occupied territories and Moscow’s Red Square, where Putin is expected to outline his view on why Ukraine has no right to an independent existence.
The stage-managed exercise follows a bogus five-day voting process across Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk that was entirely rigged in favour of becoming part of Putin’s Russia. Moscow’s proxies in the occupied regions claimed majorities of up to 99% in favour of joining. However, Ukraine and Western governments described those votes as bogus, illegitimate and conducted at gunpoint.
MPs in the Duma, Russia’s puppet parliament, are expected to rubber stamp the move next week. It is a carbon copy of Moscow’s approach in 2014 when it held a fake referendum in Crimea as a pretext for moving in and seizing the Ukrainian peninsula.
The annexation comes at a perilous moment for Putin. After months of grinding, attritional warfare, Ukraine seized the initiative this month by routing Russian forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region.
And Putin last week declared an unpopular partial mobilisation, prompting thousands of fighting-age men to flee the country. Even staunch Kremlin allies have criticised the chaotic nature of the call-up, while Putin himself said yesterday ‘all mistakes must be corrected’.
Kyiv said that the annexation votes will not stop their armed forces from trying to retake its illegally stolen land, vowing a ‘harsh’ response. For its part, Russia pledges to defend all its territory – including newly annexed regions – by all available means, including nuclear weapons.
Ukraine’s Western supporters have described the stage-managed referendums on whether to live under Russian rule as a bald-faced ‘land grab’ based on lies.
They say some people were forced to vote at gunpoint in an election without independent observers on territory from which thousands of residents have fled or been forcibly deported.