Russia pushed ahead on Thursday with its biggest conscription since World War Two while Ukraine demanded “just punishment” for a seven-month-old invasion sending shock waves around the world.
President Vladimir Putin’s order to mobilise another 300,000 Russians to fight signalled a major escalation of a war that has already killed thousands, displaced millions, pulverised cities, damaged the global economy and revived Cold War confrontation.
The conscription campaign may be the riskiest domestic move of Putin’s two decades in power, after Kremlin promises that it would not happen and a string of battlefield failures in Ukraine.
Monitoring group OVD-Info said nearly 1,400 people in 38 Russian cities were detained in anti-war protests on Wednesday. Independent news outlets said some of those arrested were served summons to report to military enlistment offices on Thursday, the first full day of conscription.
Flights out of Russia sold out after Putin’s announcement.
“Every normal person is (concerned), it’s horrible,” said one man, identifying himself only as Sergey, disembarking in Belgrade after a flight from Moscow.
“It is ok to be afraid of the war and such things.”
Ukraine urged the United Nations to create a special tribunal and strip Moscow of its U.N. Security Council veto power as a diplomatic showdown loomed on Thursday in New York.
“A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told world leaders at the annual U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
The Security Council has been unable to take meaningful action on Ukraine because Russia is a permanent veto-wielding member along with the United States, France, Britain and China.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will face his Ukrainian and Western counterparts when U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan brief the 15-member council later on Thursday.
On the ground, Russia’s military fired nine missiles on the city of Zaporizhzhia, hitting a hotel in the city centre and a power station, said regional governor Oleksandr Starukh.
At least one person was killed with others trapped under rubble, he said. The city of Zaporizhzhia is about 50 km (31 miles) from the nuclear power plant of the same name.
Ukraine’s armed forces said Russia had in the last 24 hours launched eight missile and 16 air strikes and fired 115 anti-aircraft missiles at military and civilian targets, mostly in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk areas in the south and east respectively.
Putin says Russia is carrying out “special military operation” to demilitarise neighbouring Ukraine and rid it of dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West call it an imperialist land grab aimed at reconquering a country that shook off Russian domination with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. Moscow denies targeting civilians and describes accusations of abuses as a smear campaign by Western powers intent on destroying a resurgent Russia.
Putin also announced moves to annex four Ukrainian provinces – about 15% of Ukrainian territory – and threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia, declaring: “It’s not a bluff.”
Pro-Russian figures proclaimed referendums for September 23-27 in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces.
Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, have assailed Putin this week as “reckless” and desperate due to a successful Ukraine counter-offensive in recent days.
Ukraine extended its hold on recaptured northeastern territory earlier this week as troops marched farther into areas abandoned by Russia, paving the way for a potential assault on occupation forces in the Donbas industrial heartland.
Russia and Ukraine carried out an unexpected prisoner swap on Wednesday, the largest since the war began and involving almost 300 people, including 10 foreigners and the commanders who led a prolonged Ukrainian defence of Mariupol earlier this year.
Uzbekistan’s state prosecutors warned citizens against joining foreign armies after Russia offered fast-track citizenship to those who sign up and Ukraine said it had captured Uzbeks fighting alongside Russians.
Hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks live in or regularly travel to Russia to find work and provide for their families at home.
On the Moscow metro, men could be seen studying call-up papers. “You always feel worried at moments like these. Because you have a wife and kids and you think about it,” one resident said.