Ukraine says Russians bomb evacuation convoy, kill 20

A senior Ukrainian official says: Russian troops on Saturday, a civilian evacuation convoy fired on in the northeast of the country, killing 20 people. The bombing has intensified as Moscow illegally annexed part of Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of the war.

Kharkiv region governor Oleh Syniehubov said the convoy was attacked in the Kupiansy district, calling the attack on people trying to flee the area to avoid being fired upon “unjust brutality”.

Russian forces have not acknowledged or commented on the attack, apparently the second in two days to hit a humanitarian convoy. Russian forces withdrew from much of the Kharkov region after a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive last month, but continued to shell the area.

The attack comes at a crucial moment Russian President Vladimir Putin’s War. Faced with a Ukrainian counter-offensive, Putin this week heightened the threat of nuclear weapons and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his army have vowed to continue fighting to liberate the annexed regions and other Russian-occupied areas.

View | Biden threatens Putin after Russia annexes 15% of Ukraine’s land

Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that their forces had surrounded thousands of Russian troops holding the strategic eastern city of Lyman, which is located in one of the four captured areas. Zelenskyy on Friday formally applied for Ukraine to join NATO, increasing pressure on Western allies to help defend the country.

The Ukrainian nuclear power supplier also said on Saturday that Russian troops blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. It appeared to be an attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory.

Russian troops seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukraine’s state-owned company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin signed treaties to incorporate Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia, including the nuclear power plant area.

Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge the detention of the factory director. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, said it is aware of reports of Murashov’s capture and is contacting Russian authorities to clarify what happened.

“His detention by (Russia) endangers the security of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Petro Kotin, president of Energoatom, demanding the director’s immediate release.

The power plant has been repeatedly caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian engineers continued to run it after Russian forces captured the power station, and the last reactor was shut down as a precaution in September amid continued shelling nearby.

Amid mounting international sanctions and condemnation of Russia, a Ukrainian counter-offensive that embarrassed the Kremlin seemed poised to retake more ground.

A Ukrainian official said on Saturday that the Russian-occupied city of Lyman was surrounded, with about 5,000 Russian troops trapped there. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai claimed that all routes to supply Russian troops in Lyman were blocked.

“The occupiers asked their leaders to leave, which they refused,” Haidai said in a televised interview. “Now they have three options: try to break through, surrender or die together.”

His claims could not be immediately verified. Russia has not confirmed that its troops have been cut off, and Russian analysts had said Moscow would send more troops to the area.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine is likely to recapture Lyman in the coming days.

Citing Russian reports, the institute said it appeared that Russian troops were withdrawing from Lyman, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. That matches online videos reportedly showing some Russian troops falling back when a Ukrainian soldier said they had reached the outskirts of Lyman.

It said Ukraine also made “incremental” gains around Kupiansk and the eastern bank of the Oskil River, which became a major frontline since Ukraine’s counter-offensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.

According to regional government Vitaliy Kim, the Russian army has twice attacked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv at night, once with drones and the second with rockets. The first attack was carried out with Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and the second with S-300 missiles, he said on Telegram.

One of the rockets hit a five-storey apartment building in the city center, while the windows of surrounding houses were blown out. In another part of the city, a house and a two-storey residential building sustained extensive damage. Five people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby, Kim said.

In its heaviest barrage in weeks, the Russian army stormed Ukrainian cities with rockets, missiles and suicide drones on Friday, with one strike in the capital of the Zaporizhzhya region, killing 30 and injuring 88.

In a daily intelligence briefing on Saturday, the British Ministry of Defense said the Russians “almost certainly” hit a humanitarian convoy carrying S-300 anti-aircraft missiles there. Russia is increasingly using anti-aircraft missiles to launch attacks on the ground, likely because of a lack of ammunition, the British military said.

“Russia spends strategically valuable military resources in efforts to gain tactical advantage, killing civilians it now claims are its own citizens,” it said.

The attack came as Putin prepared to sign the annexation treaties, which included the Zaporizhzhya region. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhya blamed Ukrainian forces, but provided no evidence.

Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine in what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since World War II”. The NATO chief met with the Prime Minister of Denmark on Saturday amid investigations into explosions on Russian pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

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