Key developments on Sept. 30
- Russia declares annexation of Ukraine’s occupied eastern and southern regions
- Ukraine applies for fast-track NATO accession
- Ukraine advances in Donetsk Oblast
- Russian strike on evacuation convoy in Zaporizhzhia Oblast: At least 30 killed, 88 wounded
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 30 declared the illegal annexation of swathes of Ukrainian lands it occupies in the east and the south, signaling a major escalation of the eight-year-old war.
Moscow’s move to incorporate roughly 15% of Ukraine’s territory into Russia marks Europe’s biggest land grab since World War II.
As a formal pretext for the annexation, Russia used the “referendums” it staged in the occupied territories of four Ukrainian oblasts – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia – closely resembling what happened in Crimea back in 2014. Residents reported being forced to vote at gunpoint, with Russian soldiers going door-to-door, and Russia controlled the count.
Shortly after the annexation declaration, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine has officially applied for a fast-track NATO accession.
"De facto, we have already become a NATO ally," Zelensky said in a video address. “We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other. This is the Alliance.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also delivered a statement on Sept. 30, saying the alliance would continue to support Ukraine but didn’t go into details on the prospects of Ukraine joining NATO.
He said "countries can apply to join the alliance,” emphasizing that "NATO is not part of the conflict” and it is only a “defense alliance.”
"If Russia stops fighting, there will be no war. If Ukraine stops fighting – Ukraine will cease to exist as an independent state," Stoltenberg said at a press briefing.
Russia will continue waging war against Ukraine until its military goals are achieved, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sept. 30.
Russia’s key goal is capturing the entirety of the eastern Donbas, a region comprised of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, parts of which have been occupied since 2014. Moscow’s rush to lock in its captured territories in the east and south comes after Kyiv’s lightning counteroffensive in early September that recaptured over 400 settlements in the eastern Kharkiv Oblast.
Russia doesn’t have full control over either of the regions it lays claim to, with only 60% in Donetsk Oblast.
Peskov blamed Ukraine’s “unwillingness” to talk but Zelensky said Ukraine is ready to resume dialogues when there is a new president in Russia.
World leaders denounced Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian lands, with U.S. President Joe Biden strongly condemning it as fraudulent and illegitimate.
“We will continue to provide Ukraine with the equipment it needs to defend itself,” Biden said in a statement.
Stoltenberg also called it “illegal and illegitimate,” underscoring that NATO would never recognize the annexation of Ukrainian lands.
Russian forces are encircled or being encircled in the occupied Lyman, a key rail hub in Donetsk Oblast,
In a rare confession, Moscow’s proxy leader Denis Pushilin said on Sept. 30 that the situation in Lyman is “disturbing.”
Pushilin said that Ukraine’s military has taken back some parts of Yampil and Drobysheve, located 10-15 kilometers southeast and northwest of Lyman, he added.
Hours later, Ukraine's Defense Ministry reported that Drobysheve had been liberated.
Advisor to the President’s Office Mykhailo Podolyak also said that the odds are in Ukraine’s favor in Lyman. He said the current situation will force Russia to withdraw from Lyman, but added this is only if Moscow “is concerned about the lives of its soldiers.”
Russia is reinforcing four tactical groups to “unblock” Lyman amid the difficult battle, with Ukrainian forces storming to capture the city, according to Vitaly Kiselev, a member of Russian proxy leadership in Luhansk Oblast.
Spokesman of the Eastern Group of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Serhiy Cherevaty told Suspilne media that more information will be revealed once the situation stabilizes, as fierce fighting still continues. An operation is underway to encircle Russian troops in Lyman, he said.
While keeping up with the counteroffensive, Ukraine repelled attacks near four settlements, including Bakhmut, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine’s General Staff reported.
In the south, the Operational South Command reported the front-line situation “remains difficult, but controlled” by Ukraine’s Armed Forces.
Russian forces launched three missiles and five airstrikes across Ukraine on Sept. 30, Ukraine’s General Staff reported.
Zaporizhzhia missile strike
Early on Sept. 30 before Putin’s speech, three Russian missiles struck a highway where a long convoy of civilian cars was waiting to cross into the occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, reportedly to evacuate people from there, the Interior Ministry said. They were among the 16 missiles fired.
At least 30 people were killed and 88 were wounded, according to National Police Chief Ihor Klymenko. He said that among the killed were an 11-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, while another three-year-old girl was injured.
Russian forces used S-300 missiles for the attack. Their debris was scattered across a wide area after the attack, the ministry said.
The Sept. 30 strike comes more than two months after the last similar deadly attack in the usually quiet western city of Vinnytsia, killing at least 27 people, including three children, in what Zelensky called then “an open act of terrorism.”
“Only absolute terrorists can do this, who should have no place in the civilized world,” Zelensky said.