A civilian convoy of cars heading to pick up relatives trying to flee Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine has been hit by Russian forces near the city of Zaporizhzhia, with initial reports of dozens killed and injured. The attack comes as Putin prepares to publicly sign annexation orders for four Ukrainian regions.
Footage posted on social media showed a horrific scene with dead and injured people lying on a road on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. In one video, taken from inside a nearby building, a woman can be heard sobbing, saying repeatedly: “Dead people are lying there.”
At least one crater was visible in other images showing cars that had taken the full force of the blast. A pro-Kremlin official in the Russian-occupied region of Zaporizhzhia blamed Kyiv and denied the Russian army was behind the attack.
“The regime in Kyiv is trying to portray what happened as shelling by Russian troops, resorting to a heinous provocation,” Vladimir Rogov said on social media, accusing Ukrainian troops of carrying out a “terrorist act.”
The Zaporizhzhia governor said Russian forces “launched a rocket attack on a civilian humanitarian convoy on the way out of the regional centre. People were standing in line to leave for the temporarily occupied territory, to pick up their relatives and to take away aid,” he said on social media.
Governor Starukh also posted a photograph, showing two rows of crumpled cars and several corpses lying nearby. The industrial hub of Zaporizhzhia, with a pre-war population of 700,000, is under Ukrainian control but subject to Russian rocket attacks.
Part of the region is occupied by Moscow and the Kremlin has said it plans to formally annex the region at a ceremony in Moscow on Friday.
The attack on the convoy on Friday morning came amid a feared Russian escalation in its war in Ukraine, as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, prepared to publicly sign annexation orders for four regions, which some fear will lead to an increase in attacks on Ukrainian cities.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin — along with numerous other Russian officials, politicians, and propagandists — has regularly threatened to use nuclear weapons. The president’s most recent mention of the topic came on September 21, when he announced Russia’s “partial mobilization.” To get a better idea of whether there’s any chance of Russia’s leaders following through on their nuclear threats and what the consequences will be if they do, Meduza spoke to Maxim Starchak, an expert on Russia’s nuclear policy and a Fellow at the Center for International and Defense Policy of the Queen’s University in Canada.