KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Multiple regions of Ukraine, including its capital, faced a massive Russian missile attack Thursday, the biggest wave of strikes in weeks targeting power stations and other critical infrastructure during freezing weather.
Air raid sirens rang out across the country. Ukraine’s military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said preliminary reports showed Russia fired 69 missiles at energy facilities and Ukrainian forces shot down 54 of them. Several people were wounded, although there were no immediate reports of any deaths.
Russia dispatched explosive drones to selected regions overnight before broadening the barrage with “air and sea-based cruise missiles launched from strategic aircraft and ships” in the morning, the Ukrainian air force said.
The widespread attack was the latest in a series of Russian strikes on power and water supplies that have increased the Ukrainian population’s suffering. Moscow has launched such attacks almost weekly since October while its ground forces struggle to hold ground and advance.
On Thursday, air defense systems were activated in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, to fend off strikes, according to the regional administration. Sounds of explosions were heard in the city.
At least three people were wounded and hospitalized, including a 14-year- old girl, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. He warned of power outages in the capital, asking people to stockpile water and to charge their electronic devices.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned Russia for launching the missiles amid the winter holidays, calling it an act of “senseless barbarism.”
“There can be no ‘neutrality’ in the face of such mass war crimes. Pretending to be ‘neutral’ equals taking Russia’s side,” Kuleba tweeted.
After more than 10 months of fighting, Russia and Ukraine are locked in a grinding battle of attrition. The Ukrainian military has reclaimed swaths of Russian-occupied territory in the country’s northeast and south, and continues to resist persistent Russia attempts to seize all of the industrial Donbas region in the east.
At the same time, Moscow has methodically targeted Ukrainian power facilities and other key infrastructure in a bid to weaken the country’s resolve and force it to negotiate on Russian terms. The time between strikes has increased in recent weeks, though, leading some commentators to theorize Russia is trying to ration its missile supply.
While the Ukrainian military reported success in shooting down incoming Russian missiles and explosive drones after earlier attacks, some still reached their targets. Most cities have gone without heat, internet service and electricity for hours or days at a time.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said a number of energy facilities were damaged during what he said was the 10th such large-scale attack on his country.
“Russia is trying to deprive Ukrainians of light before the New Year,” Shmyhal wrote in a Telegram post. He said that emergency blackouts may be necessary “in some areas.”
Anastasia, a medic who took shelter Thursday at a central Kyiv subway station and gave only her first name, said she was tired of the war. “We don’t know how long the war will last. It’s hard to be afraid every day and put your life on hold,” she said.
Numerous explosions also took place in Kharkiv, which is located in eastern Ukraine and the country’s second-largest city, and in the city of Lviv near the border with Poland, according to their mayors.
About 90% of Lviv was without electricity, Mayor Andriy Sadovyi wrote on Telegram. Trams and trolley buses were not working, and residents might experience water interruptions, he said.
In a development that could further escalate tensions, a Telegram channel affiliated with the presidential press service of Belarus said a Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile landed in Belarusian territory of Belarus early Thursday. It said the missile could have veered off course accidentally and there were no casualties.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry said later that the missile was downed by the Belarusian air defense over the western Brest region and fell into a field, according to a statement carried by the state Belta news agency
Belarus served as a staging ground for Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and there are fears that Moscow’s close ally could try to find a pretext for joining attacks against neighboring Ukraine.
The governor of Russia’s Saratov region, Roman Busargin, said Russian air defenses downed an “unidentified object” near the city of Engels, home to a Russian air base that serves as the main hub for nuclear-capable strategic bombers that are engaged in launching missile strikes on Ukraine.
The Russian military said the Engels base was targeted by Ukrainian drones twice this month, most recently on Monday. Russia’s Defense Ministry said three servicemen were killed by fragments of a downed Ukrainian drone.
Ukrainian authorities have maintained ambiguity about attacks on Russian soil, stopping short of claiming responsibility for them.
Earlier this month, the United States agreed to give a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine to boost the country’s defense. The U.S. and other allies also pledged to provide energy-related equipment to help Ukraine withstand the attacks on its infrastructure.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Russia was aiming to “destroy critical infrastructure and kill civilians en masse.”
“We’re waiting for further proposals from ‘peacekeepers’ about ‘peaceful settlement,’ ‘security guarantees for RF’ and undesirability of provocations,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter, a sarcastic reference to statements from some in the West who urged Ukraine to seek a political settlement of the conflict.
Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said Monday that his nation wants a “peace” summit within two months at the United Nations with Secretary-General António Guterres as mediator. He said Russia must face a war-crimes tribunal before his country directly talks with Moscow but that other nations should feel free to engage with the Russians.
Commenting on the summit proposal Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed it as “delirious” and “hollow,” describing the proposal as a “publicity stunt by Washington that tries to cast the Kyiv regime as a peacemaker.”
“It’s an attempt to give a semblance of legitimacy to a meaningless discussion that will not be followed by any concrete steps,” Zakharova said during a briefing.
Russian officials have said that any peace plan can only proceed from Kyiv’s recognition of Russia’s sovereignty over the regions it illegally annexed from Ukraine in September.
A 10-point peace plan Zelensky’y first presented at a November Group of 20 summit in Bali includes the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine.
British Ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons, commenting on the latest attack, said on Twitter that “Russia does not want peace with Ukraine. Russia wants the subjugation of Ukraine.”
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