Russian forces on Saturday launched missile strikes in Ukraine, hitting critical infrastructure and civilian settlements such as residential buildings.
Russian strikes come as it holds referendums in four occupied regions of Ukraine over joining Russia. These regions are Luhansk and Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in Southern Ukraine. The voting will conclude on Tuesday.
Ukraine and the West have condemned the vote as a sham and illegitimate. The outcome is almost certain to be in Russia's favour as voting is likely to be rigged or forced. Russia had similarly held a referendum in Crimea in 2014 whihch it then annexed.
As Russia began orchestrating staged voting in referendums across Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine on Friday, Ukrainians expressed a mix of anger, defiance and fear that their homeland was being usurped by force in what they called a sham vote. https://t.co/kDuknZ3wOh pic.twitter.com/MKElOE72Vz— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 24, 2022
Zaporizhzhia Governor Oleksandr Starukh said the Russians targeted infrastructure facilities in the Dnieper River city, and one of the missiles hit an apartment building, killing one person and injuring seven others. The Russian forces also struck other areas in Ukraine, damaging residential buildings and civilian infrastructure.
Why is Russia hitting critical infrastructures, civilians?
The British Defense Ministry said that Russia was targeting the Pechenihy dam on the Siverskyy Donets River in northeastern Ukraine following previous strikes on a dam on a reservoir near Kryvyi Rih, causing flooding on the Inhulets River.
It said, "Ukrainian forces are advancing further downstream along both rivers. As Russian commanders become increasingly concerned about their operational setbacks, they are probably attempting to strike the sluice gates of dams, in order to flood Ukrainian military crossing points."
It has been a Russian strategy to hit critical infrastructure and civilian targets in long-range missile strikes ever since Ukrainians made stunning victories in Eastern Ukraine this month. Earlier this month, Ukraine began a counter-offensive in Eastern Ukraine that forced the Russian forces to flee for several towns which Ukraine liberated after over six months of Russian occupation.
As Russia fails to stop the Ukrainian advance into the east, it's resorting to hitting critical infrastructure and civilians in the rear.
The referendum over joining Russia in occupied Ukraine
In the five-day voting in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south that began Friday, election officials accompanied by police officers carried ballots to homes and set up mobile polling stations, citing safety reasons. The votes are set to wrap up Tuesday when balloting will be held at polling stations.
The voting was also was held in Russia, where refugees and other residents of those regions cast ballots.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow will heed the residents' will, a clear indication that the Kremlin is poised to quickly annex the regions once the voting is over.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians in occupied regions to undermine the referendums and to share information about the people conducting "this farce". He also urged Ukrainians to avoid being called up in the Russian mobilisation announced on Wednesday.
"But if you do end up in the Russian army, then sabotage any enemy activity, interfere with any Russian operations, give us all important information about the occupiers...And at the first opportunity, switch to our positions," he said in his nightly address.
Fears in Russia over wider military mobilisation
Russia's Defense Ministry said that a partial mobilisation ordered by Putin aimed to add about 3,00,000 troops, but the presidential decree keeps the door open for a broader call-up.
Across Russa's 11 time zones, men hugged their weeping family members before being rounded up for service amid fears that a wider call-up might follow. Some media reports claimed that the Russian authorities actually plan to mobilise more than 1 million, the allegations denied by the Kremlin.
Protests against the mobilization that erupted Wednesday in Moscow, St. Petersburg and several other Russian cities were quickly dispersed by police, who arrested over 1,300 and immediately handed call-up summons to many of them. Anti-war activists are planning more protests Saturday.
Many Russian men tried desperately to leave the country, buying up scarce and exorbitantly priced plane tickets. Thousands others fled by car, creating lines of traffic hours or even days long at some borders. The lines of cars were so long at the border with Kazakhstan that some people abandoned their vehicles and walked — just as some Ukrainians did after Russia invaded their country Feb. 24.
In a bid to calm public fears over the call-up, the authorities announced that many of those working in high tech, communications or finance will be exempt.
(With PTI inputs)