Russia's Putin formally annexes over 15 percent of Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin completed the formal annexation of more than 15 percent of Ukraine on Wednesday just as Moscow's forces battled to halt a Ukrainian counter-offensive across swathes of the territories.
In the biggest expansion of Russia's claimed territory in at least half a century, Putin signed laws admitting the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), both breakaway areas in Ukraine, plus Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia region into Russia.
"President Vladimir Putin has signed four federal constitutional laws on the entry of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions into the Russian Federation," the lower house of parliament said.
"He also signed the relevant laws on ratification," the Duma said.
Russia declared the annexations after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to the annexation by announcing a fast-track application to join NATO and formally ruling out talks with Russia.
Zelensky's decree, released Tuesday, declares that holding negotiations with Putin has become impossible after his decision to take over the four regions of Ukraine.
The areas that are being annexed are not all under control of Russian forces.
Russia's total claim amounts to around 18 percent of Ukrainian territory, though the exact borders are still to be clarified.
Russian defence ministry maps presented on Tuesday appeared to show rapid withdrawals of Russian invasion forces from areas in eastern and southern Ukraine where they have been under severe pressure from a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
On the battlefield on Wednesday morning, multiple explosions rocked Bila Tserkva, setting off fires at what were described as infrastructure facilities in the city to the south of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian regional leader Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.
Early indications are that the city was attacked by so-called "kamikaze" or suicide drones, he said.
Bila Tserkva is about 50 miles (80 kilometres) south of Kyiv.
Russia has increasingly been using suicide drones in recent weeks, posing a new challenge to Ukrainian defenses.
The unmanned vehicles can stay aloft for long periods of time before diving into their targets and detonating their payload at the last moment.
The EU said it urged Moscow to reverse its "unlawful act" and unconditionally withdraw all its troops from the entire territory of Ukraine during Monday's meeting with Russia's charge d'affaireshttps://t.co/tuTkMrpgFP— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) October 4, 2022
Many of the earlier attacks by the Iranian-made drones happened in the south of the country and not near the capital, which hasn't been targeted for weeks.
In a later post, Kuleba said that a total of six Shahed-136 drones struck the city, one of the largest in the region after Kyiv itself.
One person was injured in the attacks.
Dozens of rescue workers were on the scene and still working to extinguish the fires hours after the attacks were reported, he said.
Ukrainian forces, in the meantime, continued to make gains in the south.
Kyiv's military on Wednesday said they have recaptured more villages in the Kherson region as a part of their massive counteroffensive effort.
Operational Command South said that the Ukrainian flag has been raised above Liubymivka, Khreschenivka, Zolota Balka, Biliaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka and Mala Oleksandrivka villages.