Russian-backed officials are trying to consolidate rule in Ukraine


Officials deployed by the Kremlin in the occupied south Ukraine celebrated Russia Day on Sunday and began issuing Russian passports to city residents who applied for them as Moscow sought to consolidate its grip on conquered parts of the country.

In one of the central squares of the city of Kherson, Russian bands played a concert to celebrate Russia Day, the holiday marking Russia’s rise to a sovereign state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

In the neighboring Zaporizhia region, Moscow-installed officials raised a Russian flag in downtown Melitopol.

Ukrainian media reported that few, if any, local residents attended the Russia Day celebrations in the two cities.

Russia Day was also celebrated in other occupied parts of Ukraine, including the devastated southern port of Mariupolwhere a new city sign in the colors of the Russian flag was unveiled on the outskirts of the city and Russian flags were hoisted on a highway leading into the city.

APTOPIX Russia-Ukraine War
A man rides a bicycle in front of a building destroyed by attacks in Borodyanka on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday June 12, 2022.

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Also, the Russia-linked administration in Melitopol began issuing Russian passports to those applying for Russian citizenship. RIA Novosti published a video of a Moscow-backed official congratulating new Russian citizens and telling them: “Russia is not going anywhere. We are here forever.”

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree earlier this year accelerating Russian citizenship for residents of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions. Moscow has also adopted the ruble as the official currency in conquered cities to the south and east, broadcast Russian news programs and taken steps to introduce a Russian school curriculum.

Kremlin administrators in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions have expressed plans to annex the areas to Russia, despite protests and signs of uprising among local residents.

Officials deployed by Russia reported an explosion in a garbage can near the city’s police headquarters in Melitopol on Sunday and said two residents were injured.

Another explosion was reported at a substation in the city of Berdyansk, also under Russian control. The Kremlin-backed government declared it a terrorist attack, and officials said power was cut off in parts of the city.

On the battlefield, Russia said it was using missiles to destroy a large depot in western Ukraine containing anti-tank and air defense weapons shipped to Kyiv by the US and European countries. The attack took place near the town of Chortkiv in the Ternopil region, sources said.

Ternopil Governor Volodymyr Trush said four Russian missiles damaged a military facility and four residential buildings in Chortkiv. More than 20 people were injured, including a 12-year-old girl, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“This strike had no tactical or strategic purpose, just like the vast majority of other Russian strikes. It’s terror, only terror,” he said in a video address.

In view of the strike, Zelenskyj once again called for modern missile defense systems in the United States and other Western countries: “These are lives that could have been saved, tragedies that could have been prevented if Ukraine had been listened to.”

Heavy fighting also continued for control of Sievierodonetsk, an eastern city in Luhansk province with a pre-war population of 100,000 that has emerged as central to Russia’s campaign to conquer Donbass, Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

Russian forces shelled a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk where up to 500 civilians, including 40 children, were holed up, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said.

An official of the pro-Moscow, self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, Rodion Miroshnik, said there were also 300 to 400 Ukrainian soldiers at the factory. He said efforts were underway to evacuate the civilians.

Leonid Pasechnik, head of the Luhansk People’s Republic, said the Ukrainians who are taking a stand in Sieverodonetsk should save themselves the trouble.

“If I were her, I would already be making a decision,” he said. “We will definitely achieve our goal.”

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