KYIV, Ukraine (AP) - Russian-installed officials in occupied regions of Ukraine said Wednesday they would ask President Vladimir Putin to incorporate them into Russia, a day after claiming that their residents overwhelmingly supported such a move in Kremlin-orchestrated votes widely viewed as illegitimate.
The preordained outcome sets the stage for a dangerous new phase in Russia's seven-month war, with the Kremlin threatening to throw more troops into the battle and potentially use nuclear weapons.
The referendums asking residents whether they wanted the four occupied southern and eastern Ukraine regions to be incorporated into Russia began Sept. 23, often with armed officials going door-to-door collecting votes.
Pro-Moscow officials in the eastern Luhansk region and the partially occupied southern region of Zaporizhzhia said they will make the request on Wednesday. The Russian-backed administration of the neighboring occupied Kherson region said such a request to Putin will be made "in the coming days."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking by video link Tuesday to the U.N. Security Council, said that "any annexation in the modern world is a crime, a crime against all states that consider the inviolability of border to be vital for themselves."
Separatist officials in the Donetsk region, large swaths of which still remain under Ukrainian control, are also expected to follow suit.
According to Russian-installed election officials, 93% of the ballots cast in the Zaporizhzhia region supported annexation, as did 87% in the Kherson region, 98% in the Luhansk region and 99% in Donetsk.
Kyiv and its Western allies dismissed the votes as sham. Zelenskyy said Russia's attempts to annex Ukrainian territory will mean "there is nothing to talk about with this president of Russia."
As the Kremlin paved the way for the annexation of the occupied lands, its troops continued to shell other areas of the country.
Authorities in the southern Ukrainian city of Nikopol say Russian rockets and artillery have pounded the city overnight. The city, across the Dnieper River from Russian-occupied territory, which includes the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, saw 10 high-rises and private buildings hit, as well as a school, power lines and other areas, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region.
Reznichenko said there were no immediate casualties reported from the attacks.
In the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, which is partially occupied by Moscow, Russian fire killed five people and wounded 10 others over the past 24 hours, said Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
Follow the AP's coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine