By Susie Blann | Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine — 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 brewing for days appeared to pick up pace in eastern areas ahead of the one-year anniversary of its invasion.
Russian forces have launched 71 cruise missiles, 35 S-300 missiles and seven Shahed drones since late Thursday, Ukraine’s military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi said.
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 terror that can and must be stopped.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s ground forces were focusing on Ukraine’s industrial east, especially the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces that 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.
Kremlin is striving to secure areas it illegally annexed last September — the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions — and where it claims its rule is welcomed, according to Kyiv officials.
Moscow’s goals have narrowed since it launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24 2022, military analysts say. At that time, the capital, Kyiv, and the installation of a puppet government were among its targets, but numerous battlefield setbacks, including yielding Donbas areas it had initially captured, have embarrassed Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin is currently concentrating its efforts on gaining full control of the Donbas, Kyiv claims, and is pushing at key points on several fronts, though 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, 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.
Pushilin’s claim couldn’t be independently verified.
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 International Atomic Energy Agency said two of Ukraine’s three operating nuclear power plants reduced power “due to renewed shelling of the country’s energy infrastructure.”
The barrage was broad, also taking aim at 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.
The spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Forces, Yurii Ihnat, told The Associated Press that another missile crossed the airspace of Romania, a NATO member country. Romania’s defense ministry denied that, however, saying the closest the missile came to Romania’s airspace was approximately 35 kilometers (20 miles).
High-voltage infrastructure facilities were hit in the eastern, western and southern regions, Ukraine’s energy company, Ukrenergo, said, resulting in power outages in some areas. It was the 14th round of massive strikes on the country’s power supply, the company said. The last one occurred on Jan. 26 as Moscow seeks to demoralize Ukrainians by leaving them without heat and water in the bitter winter.
Zaporizhzhia City Council Secretary Anatolii Kurtiev said the city had been hit 17 times in one hour, which he said made it the most intense period of attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
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Ukraine’s Air Force shot down 10 Russian missiles over Kyiv, according to the Kyiv City Administration. The fragments of one missile damaged two cars, a house and electricity wires. No casualties were reported.
The Ukraine Air Force said Russia launched S-300 anti-aircraft guided missiles on the Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia provinces. Those missiles cannot be destroyed in mid-air by air defenses but they have a relatively short range so the Russians have used them for attacks on areas not far from Russian-controlled territory.
The Khmelnytskyi province in Western Ukraine was also attacked with Shahed drones, according to regional Gov. Serhii Hamalii.
Russia has in the past used Iranian-made Shahed drones to strike at key Ukrainian infrastructure and sow fear among civilians, according to Western analysts. They are known as suicide drones because they nosedive into targets and explode on impact like a missile.