KHARKIV, Ukraine (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday extending a fast-track procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship to all Ukrainians, in another bid to expand Moscow’s influence in war-torn Ukraine.
Until recently, only residents of the Donetsk and Eastern Luhansk regions of Ukraine, as well as residents of the Southern Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions, large parts of which are under Russian control, were eligible for the simplified procedure.
Ukrainian officials have yet to respond to Putin’s announcement.
Between 2019, when the measure was first introduced to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk, and this year, more than 720 thousand residents of the rebel-held areas of the two regions – about 18% of the population – obtained Russian passports.
In late May, three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the fast-track procedure was also offered to residents of the Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions. A month ago, it was reported that the first Russian passports were delivered there.
Putin’s move came as Russian bombing of Ukraine’s second-largest city killed at least three people on Monday and injured 31 others, the local official said. Hours earlier, Russian forces launched three missile strikes on Kharkiv, which the official described as “absolute terror”.
The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Senehubov, said on Telegram that the shelling came from multiple rocket launchers, and that those who were taken to hospital due to injuries sustained in the attacks included children aged 4-16.
Only civilian buildings – the shopping center and the homes of the peaceful residents of Kharkiv – were hit by the Russians’ fire. Several shells fell on the yards of private homes. Garages and cars were also destroyed, and several fires broke out,” Sinihopov wrote.
Earlier, he said that one of the missiles fired by Russian forces at Kharkiv during the night destroyed a school, another hit an apartment building, and the third landed near warehouses.
“All (three) were fired exclusively at civilian targets, this is absolute terror!” Sinihopov said.
Alexander Beresulin, a resident of Kharkiv, said that the attacks came suddenly, without warning, causing him to lose consciousness.
“I was sitting and talking to my wife,” he said. I didn’t understand what happened. There were two raids, two or three.”
Peresolin said neighbors carried him to the basement, where he later regained consciousness.
The strikes came just two days after a Russian missile attack In apartment buildings in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 24 people. A total of nine people have been rescued, emergency officials said.
The attack late Saturday destroyed three buildings in a residential neighborhood in the town of Chasiv Yar, populated mostly by people working in nearby factories.
Russian attacks also continued in the east, where Luhansk region governor Serhiy Haiday said on Monday that shelling had hit settlements on the administrative border with the Donetsk region.
Haidai said that the Russian forces carried out five missile strikes and four rounds of bombing in the area.
The regions of Luhansk and Donetsk together form Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as Donbass, where separatist rebels have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Earlier this month, Russia captured the last major stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the city of Lyschansk.
After the capture of Lysychansk, some analysts predicted that Moscow’s forces would likely take some time to rearm and regroup, but Ukrainian officials said there was no pause in the attacks.
The British Army estimated that the Russian forces did not get the required breaks.
The Department of Defense tweeted on Monday that online videos indicated that at least one tank brigade in the war was “mentally and physically exhausted” because they had been on active combat duty since the start of the war. On February 24.
The British said: “It is very likely that the lack of scheduled breaks from intense combat conditions is one of the most pernicious personnel issues that the Russian (Ministry of Defense) is striving to rectify among the deployed forces.”
Also on Monday, Russia’s main gas pipeline to Germany began a 10-day shutdown for maintenance amid European concerns that Moscow may not re-flow after it is completed.
Jovana Jake in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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