At least 25 people have been killed in a Russian rocket attack on a humanitarian convoy in Ukraine, local officials say, per BBC.
The rockets targeted civilians lined up in vehicles in Zaporizhzhia, a southern Ukraine city. The strike killed the passengers inside the cars, created deep craters on the floor and destroyed nearby buildings, ABC reports.
According to BBC, the outlet saw “half a dozen bodies lying at the scene.” “We arrived in a line, to join a column going towards Kherson,” Ukraine resident Kateryna Holoborod told BBC. “We got out to see what number we had in the queue. Then the first rocket hit, behind the wagons,” she recalled, in a state of shock, per the outlet.
She continued, “We dropped to the ground. Then the second one hit in the center of the queue. There was glass everywhere, people screaming and running.”
“It was very scary,” she said. “I then got up to see what happened, help the injured. I tried to help an injured young man when the third explosion happened.” The Friday attack coincides with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement about a referendum to annex four Ukrainian regions: Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson.
ABC released camera footage of Russian troops retrieving the votes illegitimately by holding Ukrainians at gunpoint while recording their votes.
In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared on Friday that the country is submitting an “accelerated” application to join the NATO military alliance, ABC reported.
“We are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated accession to NATO,” Zelenskyy said, per the outlet.
Speaking to Reuters, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called Putin’s remarks “dangerous and reckless rhetoric” that demonstrate “that the war is not going according to his plans.”
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink echoed those claims, writing on Twitter: “Sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure. The United States will never recognize Russia’s claim to purportedly annexed Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Hours after Putin’s speech, President Joe Biden delivered his own remarks at the United Nations General Assembly, saying: “This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state and Ukrainians’ right to exist as a people. That should make your blood run cold.”
Recent reports have claimed that Russian soldiers are suffering from exhaustion and a lack of resources, though U.S. officials have been cautious about suggesting Putin could withdraw from the region.
Asked earlier this month if the recent liberation of key Ukrainian cities or apparent shortcomings on the battlefield mark a turning point in Russia’s invasion, Biden said the question was “unanswerable,” adding: “It’s clear the Ukrainians have made significant progress, but I think it’s going to be a long haul.”
Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues after the country invaded in late February, with forces moving from the north, south and east.
Details of the attack and the fighting have changed by the day in what marked the first major land conflict in Europe in decades — and hundreds have been reported dead or wounded, including children.
Putin has insisted Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the interest of so-called “peacekeeping.”
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said earlier this year that Putin was willing to use “whatever tools he can” in escalating his invasion of Ukraine.
“Putin has tried every means possible to actually put fear in the world in terms of his action, and it just means that we have to ramp up our efforts here at the United Nations and elsewhere to hold him accountable,” Thomas-Greenfield told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan during an interview on Face the Nation in February. “Certainly nothing is off the table with this guy. He’s willing to use whatever tools he can to intimidate Ukrainians and the world.”