KYIV, Ukraine — Russia launched a flurry of rocket, drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian towns and cities overnight Thursday to Friday, creating scenes of destruction inside Ukraine as the Kremlin planned an elaborate, and widely rejected, annexation ceremony in Moscow.
The most lethal strike hit in Zaporizhzhia, one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Moscow plans to declare part of Russia on Friday as part of an annexation process that has been condemned by the West as a sham and comes after a humiliating battlefield defeat.
The attack killed at least 25 civilians who were waiting at a checkpoint and bus stop, and injured about 50, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general — which would make it one of the deadliest single attacks against civilians in recent weeks.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine condemned the strike as the work of “terrorists” while Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, called it “horrific news.”
“Amid its losses on the battlefield, Russia continues strikes on Ukrainian civilians, a further demonstration that Ukraine’s fight is not only a fight for freedom and sovereignty, but for survival,” she wrote on Twitter.
A strike also hit residential neighborhoods in Mykolaiv, killing at least three and wounding 19, the regional governor said. Russian strikes also hit a bus depot in the city of Dnipro, and Ukraine’s military said that at least half a dozen Iranian-made kamikaze drones had been fired at targets in southern Ukraine.
The governor of Zaporizhzhia, Oleksandr Starukh, said a rocket had hit a convoy of cars lined up at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city. People in the convoy were waiting to be allowed into Russian-occupied territory to pick up relatives and deliver humanitarian aid, he said.
“All were civilians, our compatriots,” Mr. Starukh said in a message on the Telegram social media app. He declared Saturday a day of mourning.
Zaporizhzhia, a large regional center on the Dnipro River, is often the first port of call for civilians fleeing Russian-controlled territory further south.
But every day there are also long convoys of vehicles headed the other direction, into Russian-controlled territory. Those are typically people going to check on older relatives, and volunteers in trucks carrying humanitarian aid, particularly medicines.
Because the checkpoint on the outskirts of town does not operate on a schedule, people line up early in the morning and sometimes wait all day for a chance to pass through.