Russian-backed officials seek to bolster rule in Ukraine

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 bolster its rule over conquered parts of the country.

In one of the central squares in the city of Kherson, Russian bands played a concert on the occasion of Russia Day, the holiday marking Russia’s emergence as a sovereign state after the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

In the neighboring region of Zaporizhzhya, officials installed in Moscow have raised a Russian flag in the city center of Melitopol.

Ukrainian media reported that few, if any, locals attended the Russia Day festivities in the two cities.

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Russia Day was also celebrated in other occupied parts of Ukraine, including the destroyed southern port of Mariupol, where a new city sign in the colors of the Russian flag was unveiled on the outskirts and Russian flags were flown on a highway leading to the city.

Also, the Russia-affiliated government in Melitopol began handing out Russian passports to those applying for Russian citizenship. RIA Novosti posted a video of a Moscow-backed official congratulating new Russian citizens saying: “Russia is not going anywhere. We are here for good.”

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree earlier this year that accelerated Russian citizenship for residents of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions. In conquered cities to the south and east, Moscow has also introduced the ruble as its official currency, broadcast Russian newscasts and took steps to introduce a Russian school curriculum.

The Kremlin administrators in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions have expressed plans to take the areas into Russia, despite protests and signs of revolt among local residents.

Russian-installed officials in Melitopol on Sunday reported an explosion in a garbage can near the city’s police station and said two residents had been injured.

Another explosion was reported at an electrical substation in the city of Berdyansk, which is also under Russian control. The Kremlin-backed government spoke of a terrorist attack and officials said electricity was cut in parts of the city.

On the battlefield, Russia said it is using missiles to destroy a large depot in western Ukraine that contained anti-tank and air defense weapons supplied to Kiev by the US and European countries. It said the attack took place near the town of Chortkiv in the Ternopil region.

Ternopil Governor Volodymyr Trush said rocket attacks on Chortkiv on Saturday night injured 22 people, including seven women and a 12-year-old boy. Trush said four Russian missiles damaged a military installation and four residential buildings.

There was also heavy fighting for control of Sievierodonetsk, an eastern city in Luhansk Province with a pre-war population of 100,000 that has become central to Russia’s campaign to capture the Donbas, the industrial heart of Ukraine.

Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian troops shelled a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk where up to 500 civilians, including 40 children, had been holed up.

A pro-Moscow official, the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, Rodion Miroshnik, said 300 to 400 Ukrainian troops were also left behind in the factory. He said attempts are being made to evacuate the civilians, but the troops will only be allowed in if they surrender.

Leonid Pasechnik, head of the Luhansk People’s Republic, said Ukrainians taking their stand in Sievierodonetsk should save themselves the trouble.

“If I were them, I’d already make a decision” to surrender, he said. “We will reach our goal in any case.”

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