Photo: The Canadian Press
A rescue worker extinguished a fire Monday after a Russian attack in a residential area of Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday extending an expedited procedure to obtain Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians, in yet another attempt to expand Moscow’s influence in war-torn Ukraine.
Until recently, only residents of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as residents of the southern regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson, large parts of which are under Russian control, were eligible for the simplified procedure.
Ukrainian officials have not yet responded to Putin’s announcement.
Between 2019, when the procedure was first introduced for residents of Donetsk and Luhansk, and this year, more than 720,000 residents of the rebel-controlled areas in the two regions – about 18% of the population – have received Russian passports.
In late May, three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the accelerated procedure was also offered to residents of the Zaporizhzhya and Kherson regions. A month ago, the first Russian passports are said to have been handed out there.
Putin’s move came when Russian shelling on Ukraine’s second-largest city on Monday killed at least three people and injured 31 others, the local administrator said. Hours earlier, Russian forces launched three rocket attacks on Kharkov, which the official described as “absolute terrorism.”
Oleh Syniehubov, Kharkiv’s regional governor, said on Telegram that the shelling came from multiple rocket launchers, and that children aged 4 and 16 had been hospitalized for injuries sustained in the attacks.
“Only civilian structures – a shopping center and houses of peaceful residents of Kharkov – came under the fire of the Russians. Several shells hit the yards of private houses. Garages and cars were also destroyed, several fires broke out,” wrote Syniehubov.
Earlier, he said one of the rockets launched by Russian forces at night on Kharkiv destroyed a school, another hit a residential building, while the third landed near warehouse facilities.
“All (three were launched) exclusively on civilian objects, this is absolute terrorism!” said Syniehubov.
Kharkiv resident Alexander Peresolin said the attacks came suddenly and without warning, causing him to lose consciousness.
“I sat and talked to my wife,” he said. “I didn’t understand what was happening. There were two strikes, two or three.”
Peresolin said neighbors carried him to the basement, where he later regained consciousness.
The attacks came just two days after a Russian rocket attack hit apartment buildings in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 24 people. A total of nine people were rescued, emergency services said.
The attack late Saturday destroyed three buildings in a residential area of the city of Chasiv Yar, mainly inhabited by people working in nearby factories.
Russian attacks in the east have also continued, with Luhansk regional government Serhiy Haidai on Monday saying the shelling has hit settlements on the administrative border with the Donetsk region.
Russian forces carried out five rocket attacks and four shelling in the area, Haidai said.
The Luhansk and Donetsk regions together form Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, known as Donbas, where separatist rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Earlier this month, Russia captured the last major stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the city of Lysychansk.
After the capture of Lysychansk, some analysts predicted that Moscow’s troops would likely take some time to rearm and regroup, but Ukrainian officials said the attacks have not paused.
The British army ruled that Russian troops were not given the necessary breaks.
The Defense Department tweeted Monday that online videos suggested that at least one tank brigade was “mentally and physically exhausted” in the war, having been on active combat duty since the start of the war on Feb. 24.
The British said: “The lack of planned interruptions to intense combat conditions is most likely one of the most damaging of the many personnel issues that the Russian (Department of Defense) is struggling 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 fears Moscow might not be able to turn power on after completion.