David Keyton and John Leicester, The Associated Press
Posted Sunday, June 12, 2022 3:00 PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2022 7:57 PM EDT
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Kremlin-installed officials in occupied southern Ukraine celebrated Russia Day on Sunday and began issuing Russian passports to residents of a city who requested them, as Moscow sought to consolidate its authority over captured parts of the country.
In one of the central squares of the city of Kherson, Russian bands performed a concert to celebrate Russia Day, the holiday that marks Russia’s emergence as a sovereign state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
In neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, Moscow-based officials raised a Russian flag in downtown Melitopol.
Ukrainian media reported that few, if any, local residents attended Russia Day festivities in both cities.
Russia Day was also celebrated in other occupied parts of Ukraine, including the ravaged southern port of Mariupol, where a new city sign painted in the colors of the Russian flag was unveiled on the outskirts and Russian flags fluttered on a highway leading to the city. .
Additionally, the Russian-aligned administration in Melitopol began distributing 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 for good.
President Vladimir Putin earlier this year issued a decree accelerating Russian citizenship for residents of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. In captured cities in the south and east, Moscow also introduced the ruble as the official currency, broadcast Russian news broadcasts, and took steps to introduce a Russian school curriculum.
Kremlin administrators in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions have announced their intention to incorporate these areas into Russia, despite protests and signs of insurrection among local residents.
Russian officials based in Melitopol on Sunday reported an explosion at a trash can near the city’s police headquarters and said two residents were injured.
Another explosion was reported at an electrical substation in the city of Berdyansk, also under Russian control. The Kremlin-backed administration said it was a terrorist attack and officials said power was cut in parts of the city.
On the battlefield, Russia said it was using missiles to destroy a large depot in western Ukraine that contained anti-tank and air defense weapons supplied to Kyiv by the United States and European countries . The attack took place near the town of Chortkiv in the Ternopil region.
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, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
“This strike made no tactical or strategic sense, just like the absolute majority of other Russian strikes. This is terror, just terror,” he said in a video address.
In light of the strike, Zelenskyy made another plea for modern missile defense systems from the United States and other Western nations, saying, “These are lives that could have been saved, tragedies that could have been be avoided if Ukraine had been listened to.
In addition, fierce fighting continued for control of Sievierodonetsk, a city in eastern Luhansk province with a pre-war population of 100,000 that emerged as a central part of the Russian campaign to capture the Donbass, the industrial heart of Ukraine.
Russian forces shelled a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk where up to 500 civilians, including 40 children, were locked up, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said.
An official of the self-proclaimed pro-Moscow People’s Republic of Luhansk, Rodion Miroshnik, said 300 to 400 Ukrainian troops also remained inside the plant. He said efforts were underway to evacuate civilians.
Leonid Pasechnik, leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic, said Ukrainians taking positions in Sievierodonetsk should save themselves trouble.
“If I were them, I would already make the decision” to surrender, he said. “We will achieve our goal in any case.”