Kyiv: Russia used strategic bombers, cruise missiles, and killer drones in a wave of attacks across Ukraine early Friday, while Moscow’s military push that Kyiv says has been underway for days, ahead of the first anniversary of its invasion of the eastern.
Ukraine’s military chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi said the Russian military has launched 71 cruise missiles, 35 S-300 missiles, and seven Martyr drones since late Thursday. Ukrainian forces downed 61 cruise missiles and five drones, he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has campaigned for more Western support against Russia’s military ambitions, said: “This is the terror that can and must be stopped.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s ground forces were concentrating on Ukraine’s industrial east, especially Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which make up the industrial Donbas region, where recent fighting has been most intense, the Ukrainian military said. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014. According to Kyiv officials, the Kremlin is attempting to secure territories it illegally annexed last September – the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions – and where it claims its rule is based.
Military analysts say Moscow’s targets have narrowed since it planned to launch a full-scale offensive on February 24, 2022. At the time, the capital, Kyiv, and the installation of a puppet government were among its goals, but several battlefield setbacks, including the initially captured Donbas regions, have embarrassed Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kyiv claims that Kremin is currently focusing its efforts on gaining full control of the Donbas, and is pushing for key points on several fronts, although Russian progress is reportedly slow.
In the Donetsk region, local Ukrainian officials reported that the Russian military deployed additional troops and launched offensive operations. “There is a daily escalation and Russian attacks are becoming active throughout the region,” Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
In Luhansk province, the Russian army is trying to punch through Ukrainian defenses, according to regional Gov. Serhii Haidai.
“The situation is deteriorating, the enemy is constantly attacking, and the Russians are bringing in a large amount of heavy equipment and aircraft,” Haidai said.
There has been little change in battlefield positions for weeks amid freezing winter conditions.
Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-appointed head of the Donetsk region, said that Russian forces had secured positions on the southern outskirts of Vuhledar. He added that Ukraine has sent additional reinforcements to the city that slowed the Russian advance.
Vuhledar is a strategically important town that sits next to a railway link crossing the region on the way to Crimea. Capturing the town is important for Russia to secure the safety of the railway connection to Crimea and advance its goal of seizing the entire Donetsk region.
The cruise missiles aimed at Ukraine were launched by Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and from Russian navy ships in the Black Sea, military chief Zaluzhnyi said, while the S-300 missiles were launched from the Belgorod region just inside Russia and the occupied part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Moscow once again targeted the power supply in “another attempt to destroy the Ukrainian energy system and deprive Ukrainians of light, heat, water.”
The barrage was broad, also aiming for the capital, Kyiv, and Lviv, near Ukraine’s Western border with Poland. It also struck critical infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast. Seven people were wounded there, two of them seriously, regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said. Air raid sirens sounded across much of the country.
Also Friday, Moldova’s Ministry of Defense said that a missile was detected traversing its airspace near the border with Ukraine. Moldova’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the Russian ambassador in Chisinau has been summoned for talks over the “unacceptable violation”.
The ministry said that the missile was detected in its airspace at around 10 a.m. and flew over two border villages before heading toward Ukraine. Ukraine’s energy company Ukrenergo said high-voltage infrastructure facilities were affected in eastern, western, and southern regions, resulting in power outages in some areas. The company said this was the 14th round of a massive strike on the country’s electricity supply. The last time it happened was on January 26 when Moscow tried to demoralize Ukrainians by leaving them without heat and water in the bitter winter.
Anatolii Kurtiev, secretary of the Zaporizhzhia City Council, said the city was hit 17 times in an hour, which he said was the most intense period of attacks since the start of the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
According to the Kyiv City Administration, the Ukrainian Air Force shot down 10 Russian missiles over Kyiv. Shrapnel from one missile damaged two cars, a house, and power lines. There was no information about any casualty. The Ukraine Air Force said Russia launched S-300 anti-aircraft guided missiles over Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhya provinces. Those missiles can’t be destroyed by air defense in mid-air, but they have a relatively short range, so the Russians have used them for attacks on areas not too far from Russian-controlled territory.
According to the regional government, Serhii Hamalii, Khmelnytskyi province in western Ukraine was also hit by Shahed drones.
According to Western analysts, Russia has in the past used Iranian-made Shaheed drones to attack key Ukrainian infrastructure and instill fear among civilians. They are known as suicide drones because they penetrate the target and explode on impact like a missile.