Brutal Russian attacks on civilian convoys as Putin announces annexation

Russian President Vladimir Putin violated international law in Zaporozhye, Ukraine, on Sept.  At least 25 Ukrainians were killed in Russian missile attacks as they waited to deliver aid and collect relatives from the annexed region on the 30th.  , 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin violated international law in Zaporozhye, Ukraine, on Sept. At least 25 Ukrainians were killed in Russian missile attacks as they waited to deliver aid and collect relatives from the annexed region on the 30th. , 2022. (Photos by Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post/Washington Post)

Zaporizhia, Ukraine — Russian missiles are suspected to have ripped through a civilian convoy hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin declared annexation of the contested region and vowed to protect its residents — the latest victims of his war lying in body bags. on the ground.

They waited for hours under the trees of an old car market to begin their journey from Avtorinok, near the final Ukrainian-controlled checkpoint in the southeastern Zaporizhia province, to towns and cities captured by Russian forces in the early weeks of the war.

Washington Post reporters spoke with men in the convoy earlier in the day: some doctors, who had crossed the battle line to perform life-saving surgeries in hospitals that Russian forces had failed to adequately rehabilitate; Others were ordinary citizens, too old or too infirm to travel alone, trying to rescue loved ones.

In Zaporizhzhia, Russia controlled a referendum, but not hearts or minds

Around 7 a.m. Friday, three suspected Russian missiles destroyed those plans. Explosions rocked the asphalt. Bodies and pieces were scattered on the floor.

Ukrainian officials said at least 26 people were killed and another 85 wounded.

The strikes were part of a wave of Russian missile, rocket and drone strikes launched across the southeast as Putin prepared his annexation announcement, Ukrainian officials said. The contrast between the “great liberation mission” that Putin claims to be carrying out in occupied Ukraine and the brutal reality of the war he has inflicted on the people here could not have been starker.

“I’m going to treat people with heart disease as best I can, or I’ll drive them here myself,” Vitali, a 69-year-old surgeon, said earlier in the day. , shrugging off the dangers with a smile. “I’ll be fine.”

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His mustard colored Lada was found amid the debris on Friday.

Vitaly was one of the few survivors of shell shock. His face was a picture of sadness. Some of the dead were found lying near their cars or near bushes where they had sought shelter.

When one of Vitali’s associates received a phone call, the fellow picked up and ended the call by saying, ‘I’m here, I’m alive.’

Friday’s strikes sent shock waves through a city already transformed by Putin’s war. Hospitals sprang into action as casualties poured into their emergency rooms. Volunteers who had spent months turning the parking lot of a large supermarket into a reception point for civilians fleeing the occupied territories were scrambling to relocate, fearing that strikes could continue on other humanitarian sites.

Putin signed off on the annexation of parts of Ukraine, in violation of international law

At the last checkpoint under Russian control, fear and confusion rippled through the line of Ukrainian vehicles, filled with civilians trying to flee. Russian soldiers walked between the cars and told the drivers that the Ukrainian military was responsible for the strikes, passengers later reported.

“I don’t believe it,” said Paolo, 23, from the town of Dogmak. Like others interviewed, he spoke on the condition that only his first name be used, fearing repercussions for Russian-controlled family members.

“We had to drive. The other option was to stay at home and be forced by the Russians to fight against my fellow Ukrainians,” he said.

Ukrainians in the newly annexed countries fear they may now be forced to fight their own countrymen as Putin has announced a partial mobilization of Russians at home.

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Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have already been killed since Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. The International Criminal Court has opened investigations into what appear to be war crimes on a massive scale.

In a move that mirrored the drama of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russian soldiers and local puppet officials held referendums in their controlled provinces of Zaporizhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk, each registering more than 90% victory.

Fleeing residents say some votes were collected at gunpoint.

At the Zaporizhzhia new reception point, nobody saw Putin’s congratulatory speech. They already knew what he would say, and most families focused on finding a place to spend the night.

When asked about Putin’s latest declaration – that they are now Russian citizens “on the basis of historical unity” – many residents roll their eyes. Recent visitors said the Ukrainian military, which has rolled back Russian gains in the east in recent weeks, hopes to one day recapture lands Putin has claimed as his own.

One of the volunteers, a 17-year-old named Yaroslav, said he plans to join once he reaches the legal age of 18. He said local separatist fighters aligned with Russia were now living in his house in the town of Zaporizhia. of Enerhodar. He said he talked to them before he fled, and they told him they never believed a Russian invasion would take them this far.

“We’ve seen people suffer, we’ve seen people die because of this war,” Yaroslav said. “What for?”

As night fell on Avtorinok, the belongings of the dead were still on the ground. There was a small photograph on the long lawn. It showed a young couple beaming and they looked very much in love.

“I miss you so much,” read a note on the back. “Come back to me.”

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Serhii Korolchuk in Zaporizhia contributed to this report.

The War in Ukraine: What You Need to Know

Latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the decrees on Friday Unite the four occupied regions of Ukraine, following referendums that were widely condemned as illegitimate. Follow our Live updates here.

Answer: The Biden administration announced Friday New round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the links, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials, and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday Ukraine Applying for “accelerated accession” to NATOIn apparent response to links.

In Russia: Putin announced military mobilization Sep. You can invite as many people as you want in 21 300,000 bookers In a dramatic attempt to reverse the setback in his war on Ukraine. Notice led An discharge of More than 180,000 peopleMostly Men under serviceAnd Renewed protests and other actions against the war.

Fighting: Ukraine loaded A successful counterattack That It forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region By early September, troops had withdrawn from towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war. Large quantities of military equipment were dropped.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the start of the war – Here are some of their most powerful works.

How you can help: Here are ways people in the US can do it Support the Ukrainian people as well as What people around the world have donated.

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