Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a video celebrating the...

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a video celebrating the anniversary of the incorporation of regions of Ukraine to join Russia in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. Credit: AP/Mikhail Metzel

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday insisted that the residents of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed a year ago “made their choice — to be with their Fatherland.”

In an address released in the early hours to mark the first anniversary of the annexation, Putin insisted that it was carried out “in full accordance with international norms.” He also claimed that residents of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions had again expressed their desire to be part of Russia in local elections earlier this month. Russia’s Central Election Commission said the country’s ruling party won the most votes.

The West has denounced both the referendum votes carried out last year and the recent ballots as a sham. The votes were held as Russian authorities attempted to tighten their grip on territories Moscow illegally annexed a year ago and still does not fully control.

A concert was held in Red Square on Friday to mark the anniversary, but Putin did not participate.

The address came after Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday it would enlist 130,000 men for compulsory military service this fall, beginning Oct. 1, in most regions of the country. It announced it would for the first time begin enlisting residents of the annexed territories as part of its twice-yearly military conscription campaign.

Russia says conscripts are not deployed to what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, or to serve in the annexed territories. However, after their service, conscripts automatically become reservists, and Russia has previously deployed reservists to Ukraine.

In Ukraine, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell referenced the anniversary of the regions being “illegally annexed” by Russia in a video recorded during an unannounced visit to the Black Sea port city of Odesa on Saturday. Speaking from the city’s Transfiguration Cathedral, severely damaged in a Russian missile strike in July, Borrell reiterated the EU’s support for Ukraine.

“Odesa is a beautiful historic city. It should be in the headlines for its vibrant culture and spirit. Instead, it marks the news as frequent target of Putin’s war,” the EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy chief wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Meanwhile, the governor of Ukraine’s partly occupied southern Zaporizhzhia region, Yurii Malashko, said five people were wounded on Saturday in two missile strikes on the village of Matviivka, located on the northeastern outskirts of the regional capital, also called Zaporizhzhia.

Air defenses shot down 30 out of 40 Iranian-made kamikaze drones aimed at the Odesa, Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia provinces overnight, the Ukrainian air force said Saturday.

Vinnytsia regional Gov. Serhii Borzov said that air defenses shot down 20 drones over his central Ukrainian region, but that a “powerful fire” broke out in the town of Kalynivka when a drone struck an unspecified infrastructure facility.

Romania’s Ministry of National Defense said Saturday that a possible unauthorized entry into its national airspace occurred overnight amid the bombardment.

It said the radar surveillance system of the Romanian Army detected “a possible unauthorized entry” into the national airspace of NATO member Romania, with a signal detected toward the city of Galati, which is close to the border with Ukraine.

“At this moment, no objects have been identified that fell from the airspace onto the national territory,” the statement read, adding that NATO allies were informed in real time and that searches will continue through Saturday.

Emergency authorities issued text message alerts overnight to residents living in the counties of Galati and Tulcea, after detecting what the defense ministry said was “groups of drones heading toward Ukrainian territory” near the border.

In recent weeks, Romania has found drone fragments on its soil from the war next door at least three times as Russian forces carry out sustained attacks on Ukraine’s Danube ports.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that it had shot down nine Ukrainian rockets fired at its southern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine. Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said that an artillery shell created a crater and shrapnel damaged a house, a store and a gas pipeline in an attack on the regional capital, also called Belgorod. Local officials in Russia’s Bryansk region, also bordering Ukraine, reported disruptions to the power supply following an unspecified attack on the town of Pogar. Drone strikes and shelling in the Russian border regions are a regular occurrence.

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Associated Press writers Stephen McGrath in Sighisoara, Romania, and Elise Morton in London contributed to this report.

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