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Russians shell civilian evacuation convoy, killing 20, senior Ukrainian official says

Ukraine applies for NATO membership
Ukraine applies for NATO membership as Russia annexes regions 02:01

Russian forces on Saturday shelled a civilian evacuation convoy in the country's northeast, killing 20 people, s senior Ukrainian official says. Bombardments have intensified as Moscow illegally annexed a swath of Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of the war.

Kharkiv region Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said the convoy was struck in the Kupiansy district, calling the attack on people who were trying to flee the area to avoid being shelled "сruelty that can't be justified."

Russian forces have not acknowledged or commented on the attack, apparently the second in two days to hit a humanitarian convoy. Russian troops have retreated from much of the Kharkiv region after a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive last month but continued to shell the area 

The attack comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin's war. Facing a Ukrainian counteroffensive, Putin this week heightened threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military vowed to keep fighting to liberate the annexed regions and other Russian-occupied areas.

Russia Ukraine War
Artillery craters are seen in the field from an arial view in the recently liberated area of Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sept. 30, 2022. Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

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

Also Saturday Ukraine's nuclear power provider said that Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe's largest nuclear plant. It appeared to be an attempt to secure Moscow's hold on the newly annexed territory.

Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin signed treaties to absorb Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia, including the area around the nuclear plant.

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

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, said it was aware of the reports of Murashov's capture, and had contacted Russian authorities for clarification on what happened.

"His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe's largest nuclear power plant," said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said, demanding the director's immediate release.

The power plant repeatedly has been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued running it after Russian troops seized the power station, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure amid ongoing shelling nearby.

Amid growing international sanctions and condemnation of Russia, a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has embarrassed the Kremlin appeared on the verge of retaking more ground.

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

"The occupiers asked their leadership for the opportunity to leave, which they refused," Haidai said in a television interview. "Now they have three options: to try to break through, to surrender or to die together."

His claims could not immediately be verified. Russia has not confirmed its forces were cut off, and Russian analysts had said Moscow was sending more troops to the area.

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

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