Washington Post reporters had spoken to the men who had joined the convoy earlier in the day: some were doctors, crossing battle lines to perform life-saving surgery in hospitals that Russian forces had failed to adequately restore; Others were ordinary citizens, trying to save loved ones who could not travel alone.
Three suspected Russian missiles foiled those plans around 7 a.m. Friday. The explosions shook the asphalt. Bodies and shrapnel were strewn on the ground.
Ukrainian officials said at least 26 people were killed and 85 others were injured.
Ukrainian officials said the attacks were part of a wave of Russian missile, rocket and drone attacks as Putin prepared for his annexation announcement. The contrast between the “great liberation campaign” that Putin claims to have waged in occupied Ukraine and the brutal reality of the war he has waged on its people could not be more stark.
“I will treat people with heart problems as much as possible or I will put them in a car and bring them back here myself,” Vitali, a 69-year-old surgeon, had said earlier in the day. , shunning the risk with a smile. “I’ll be fine.”
His mustard colored Lada was in the rubble on Friday.
Vitaly was one of a handful of shellshocked survivors. He had a sad expression on his face. Some of the dead were lying next to their cars, or near bushes where they had sought safety.
When one of Vitaly’s companions received a call, the companion picked up the phone and simply said, ‘I’m here and I’m alive’, then ended the call.
Friday’s attacks sent shock waves through a city already transformed by Putin’s war. Hospitals swung into action as accident victims entered their emergency rooms. Volunteers who have spent months turning the parking lot of a large supermarket into a reception point for civilians fleeing the occupied area have clamored to move to another location, fearing strikes on other humanitarian sites.
At the last checkpoint in Russian-controlled territory, fear and chaos erupted in a line of Ukrainian vehicles, as civilians tried to flee. Russian soldiers walked through the trains and told the drivers that the Ukrainian military was responsible for the attack, passengers later said.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Pavlo, 23, from the town of Tokmak. Like others interviewed, he spoke on condition that he use only his first name for fear of repercussions for family members in Russian-controlled territory.
“We wanted to drive. The other option is to stay home and be recruited by the Russians to fight against my fellow Ukrainians,” he said.
With Putin declaring a partial reunification of Russians at home, Ukrainians in the newly annexed lands fear they will now be forced to fight their countrymen.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have already been killed since Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. The International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into what amounts to war crimes on a large scale.
In a move that mirrored the stagecraft of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russian soldiers and local puppet authorities held referendums in the regions they hold in Zaporizhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, each registering more than 90% victory.
Residents who fled say some votes were collected at gunpoint.
At the new reception point in Zaporizhia, nobody was watching Putin’s accession speech. They already knew what he was going to say and most families were focused on finding a place to spend the night.
Asked about Putin’s latest announcement – that they are now Russian citizens “based on historical unity” – many residents rolled their eyes. Recent arrivals have said they hope Ukrainian forces, which have pushed back Russian gains in the east in recent weeks, will one day retake lands Putin claims as his own.
One of the 17-year-old volunteers, Yaroslav, said he planned to enlist as soon as he reached the legal age of 18. He said local separatist fighters allied with Russia were now living in his home in the city of Zaporizhia. of Enerhodar. He had spoken to them before fleeing, he said, and they told him they never believed a Russian invasion would take them this far.
“We’ve seen people suffer, we’ve seen people die because of this war,” Yaroslav said. “For what?”
Night fell in Avtorinok, the possessions of the dead still lying on the ground. There was a small photograph in the tall grass. It featured a young couple beaming and looking very much in love.
“I miss you so much,” read a note on the back. “Come back to me.”
Serhii Korolchuk in Zaporizhia contributed to this report.
The War in Ukraine: What You Need to Know
Latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the order on Friday Added four occupied territories of Ukraine, after holding a referendum that was widely condemned as illegal. follow us Live updates here.
Response: The Biden administration on Friday a A new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexation, targeted government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials, and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine is Applying for “quick ascension” to NATOIn clear reply to attachments.
In Russia: Putin announced military mobilization To call the maximum on September 21 300,000 reserve In a dramatic attempt to roll back the odds in his war on Ukraine. The announcement was made an exit of More than 180,000 peoplemostly who were subject to male serviceAnd Renewed demonstrations and other acts of disobedience against the war.
Fight: Mounted in Ukraine A successful counterattack That Forced a large Russian retreat into the northeastern Kharkiv region In early September, the army fled the towns and villages it had occupied since the early days of the war and A large amount of military equipment was released.
Photo: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the start of the war – Here are some of their most powerful functions.