Every week we wrap up the must-reads from our coverage of the Ukraine war, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.
In a major escalation in the seven-month old war, Vladimir Putin on Friday signed papers marking the illegal annexation of the occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
In response, a defiant Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, announced that Ukraine was officially applying for membership of Nato, saying he was taking this “decisive step” in order to protect “the entire community” of Ukrainians. I promised the application would happen in an “expedited manner”.
In the Grand Kremlin Palace, Putin signed “accession treaties” – in defiance of international law – formalizing Russia’s illegal annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine, marking the largest forcible takeover of territory in Europe since the second world war. It came on the heels of Kremlin-orchestrated fake referendums in the regions.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the annexation “has no legal value and deserves to be condemned”. The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, described it as the “most serious escalation” since the war began, while G7 foreign ministers said the annexations “constitute a new low point in Russia’s blatant flouting of international law”.
Isobel Koshiw and Andrew Roth covered the four-day-long fake referendum in the Russian-occupied regions concluded on Tuesday and as predicted, the results reported by Russian state media showed overwhelming support for joining Russia.
Putin has said he is ready to “protect” those territories using all available means, indicating he would be willing to resort to a nuclear strike in order to prevent Ukraine’s efforts to liberate its sovereign territory.
Zelenskiy said Russia would not get any new territory. “Russia will annex itself to the catastrophe that it has brought to the occupied territory of our country,” he said. “We will act to protect our people: both in the Kherson region, in the Zaporizhzhia region, in the Donbas, in the currently occupied areas of the Kharkiv region, and in the Crimea.”
Hours before Putin’s signing ceremony, Russian forces killed dozens in a missile attack on people waiting in cars in Zaporizhzhia city to cross into Russian-occupied territory so they could bring family members back across the frontlines.
‘Terrorist state’ and tougher sanctions
Politicians across Europe warned the suspected sabotaging of the two Nord Stream pipelines could herald a new stage of hybrid warfare targeting vulnerable energy infrastructure in order to undermine support of Ukraine.
ace Philip Oltermann reported from Berlin, large amounts of natural gas have been pouring into the Baltic Sea since Monday through three separate leaks on the two Nord Stream pipelines built to deliver Russian gas to Europe. Seismologists recorded explosions in the Swedish and Danish waters where the pipeline passes the island of Bornholm on Monday morning and evening, suggesting the leaks were deliberate.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the leaks were due to “sabotage” while Latvia’s foreign minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, posted to social media that it “seems we enter a new phase of hybrid war”, without naming who I believed I was responsible.
The Kremlin has dismissed descriptions of the Nord Stream leaks as a Russian “terrorist attack” as “stupid and absurd”. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday said Russia intends to call a UN security council meeting over damage to two Nord Stream undersea gas pipelines.
The head of the Office of the Ukrainian Presidency called for sweeping American and European sanctions targeting Moscow after an official report drawn up by an international working group concluded Russia should now be declared a “state sponsor of terrorism”.
Andriy Yermak, the second most powerful Ukrainian government official after president Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke with diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour, after Ukraine accused Russia of sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. The accusation adds to its claim that Russia has shown all the characteristics of a terrorist state under US and international law.
Such a designation, resisted so far by the US administration, would allow for secondary sanctions to be imposed on any entity or individual trading or supporting Russia government bodies, including state-owned banks.
Yermak praised existing sanctions, but said the impact had not been decisive, adding: “It is often said that money is like water: it always finds a way to flow. To combat this, the west needs to double down on existing sanctions.”
It comes as the EU proposed an eighth batch of sanctions to “make the Kremlin pay” for the escalation of the war against Ukraine. Jennifer Rankin in Brussels reported on the proposals which include a promise to cap the price of Russian oil and further curbs on hi-tech trade such as certain chemicals and aviation components.
Von der Leyen said Russia had ramped up the invasion to “a new level”, listing the sham referendums in Russian-occupied territory, the partial mobilization order and Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons. “We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said.
Some Russians flee Putin’s draft – but not all
While tens of thousands of Russians are queuing at the borders to escape the country’s first mobilization since the second world war, others have accepted and even embraced the call-up.
“When the motherland comes calling, you have to answer,” 27-year-old bus driver Ilya told Pyotr Sauer after being called up.
Standing in stark contrast to the mile-long lines to get out are videos of men across the country, to the applause of their wives and mothers, boarding buses that will take them to training centers, in what is likely to be a one-way journey for many.
“The nation has split, and mobilization has further exacerbated existing divisions,” Denis Volkov of independent polling agency the Levada Center said. “The western-oriented, more modern, urban segment of the population wants to leave and is against the draft. But there is still a large core of men that will not avoid the draft. They are often less educated, poorer and more reliant on the state.”
At the Verkhny Lars border crossing into Georgia, Daniel Boffey met some of those trying to escape the draft, including Alexandra, 37, a lawyer from Moscow, who told him: “We have left our house, our car, our lives – everything.”
Looking down at the top of the blond head of her small child, kicking a stone at her feet, Alexandra explained that she, her husband and son had driven for more than 20 hours from Russia’s capital before dumping their car in the southern city of Vladikavkaz and going on by foot to the border crossing with Georgia.
“We walked for 25km (15 miles) to get to the border with our four-year-old son, between the queuing cars, with no space and lots of smoke.” Asked what they will do next, she replied: “I don’t know, we don’t know.”
Alexandra’s husband, Artiom, 41, who works in radio technology, was at least clear as to why they were there, blinking in the bright sun, with thousands of others among the mountains on the Georgian side of the Verkhny Lars border point. “We didn’t want to be part of the war,” he said. Alexandra added: “My husband was born in Ukraine. He could be mobilized and fighting Ukrainians.”
The couple and their child, with only four small bags to their name, walked on, to be mobbed by the horde of taxi drivers who gather daily at the crossing, charging exorbitant fees for the three-hour drive to Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
This family, exhausted and bewildered, are just three of the 10,000 Russians that Georgia’s interior minister, Vakhtang Gomelauri, said on Tuesday were entering the country daily through Verkhny Lars, a bundle of gray buildings and lanes sandwiched in a gorge in the mountains that acts as the only formal crossing between the two countries.
Reporter Jedidiah Otte spoke to three men who told of why they won’t fight in Ukraine, their efforts to evade the draft and what the future holds.
Fears of the mobilization this week led to a sharp rise in demand for private jets as wealthy Russians look for a way out of the country. Passengers are said to be predominantly heading to Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, which allow Russians visa-free entry, Pyotr Sauer writes. They are paying between £20,000 and £25,000 for a seat on a private plane, while the price to rent an eight-seater jet ranges from £80,000 to £140,000, which is many times more expensive than the normal fare.
“The situation is absolutely crazy at the moment,” said Yevgeny Bikov the director of a broker jet company, Your Charter. “We would get 50 requests a day; now it is around 5,000.”
The aftermath of a Russian cluster bomb attack
Elena Bulakhtina was on the way back to her medical clinic when a cluster bomb screamed across the sky. There was a bang, then two seconds later a series of detonations, as deadly shrapnel whizzed through the air. Bulakhtina, a doctor, flung herself to the ground. She made it to her workplace basement just as a second bomb exploded, and then a third.
Not everyone was as lucky. Our correspondent Luke Harding visited Hrushivka, a once peaceful village about 8km away from the frontline in the north-east, attacked by Russia on Tuesday afternoon. A few locals were standing next to a generator, where they were able to charge their phones and check emails. Pensioner Nikolai Koliyenko was sitting on a bench outside his house. It was overcast.
Bomb fragments killed Koliyenko. A woman in her fifties, Vera Shevtsova, also died. “We couldn’t do anything for them. The elderly man had multiple shrapnel injuries. We left him. Those are our triage rules,” Bulakhtina explained. Instead she helped the living. They included a critically wounded 10-year-old boy, Andriy Seydnuk, who was hit in the head by metal casing.
The building filled up with screaming children and desperate adults. “I only knew I was treating a boy in a green hoodie. He was barely breathing. A colleague bandaged his head. We had nothing for kids. Miraculously there was a tube approximately his size so we could intubate him. We had no oxygen so ran our ventilator on room air. It was the best we could do for him,” she said.
The episode was terrible. And what you might call mundane. It was ordinary in the sense that Moscow has been dropping cluster bombs on civilians since the beginning of its full-scale invasion, more than six long months ago. The tragedy in Hrushivka was, on a micro scale, an echo of the horrors of Mariupol, where thousands died this spring under rockets and air-launched missiles.