Ukraine braces for more missile strikes after Russia's worst barrage

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Ukrainians have been told to prepare for large-scale missile strikes after Russia launched its largest-ever barrage of war on several cities in Ukraine, killing at least 29 people.

Ukraine's Defense Minister, Rustem Umerov, said Russian forces had been building up missiles and drones for months and carrying out numerous tests aimed at defeating its air defenses.

“It is obvious that such missiles are in stock . . . they can and will continue such attacks,” Umerov warned on Facebook on Friday.

Russian forces launched 158 missiles and drones against the capital Kiev and several other cities on Friday morning.

Eight people were killed in Kyiv, which was well defended by several air defense systems. A warehouse was destroyed by a direct missile strike, the first to hit the capital in months.

Seven people were killed in Zaporizhzhya, in the south of Ukraine, and six in Dnipro, in the east of the country, where a shopping center was set on fire. The maternity hospital was also damaged. At least 130 people were injured across Ukraine.

Russia fired another missile Friday afternoon, hitting a residential area in Smila, southeast of Kiev.

Lieutenant-General Mykola Olechuk, the head of Ukraine's air force, said Friday's strikes were the largest air assault of the full-scale war so far. Military facilities were also targeted.

The attack comes as Ukraine faces its toughest period since Russia's full-scale occupation. The long-awaited counteroffensive stalled this fall, after making only modest territorial gains, and the ground war is now largely at a standstill.

Solidarity with Kiev's Western allies appears to have weakened. The Biden administration's request for $61 billion in aid to Ukraine has been blocked in Congress. A €50bn EU support package for the next four years was vetoed by Hungary earlier this month, although the bloc is developing an alternative €20bn funding plan for 2024.

A bright spot for Kiev has been its long-range missile and drone strikes against Russia's Black Sea fleet, which destroyed another ship in Crimea earlier this week.

Ukrainian and Western officials had expected Russia to step up its aerial bombardment following its campaign last winter, which destroyed electricity and heating plants and other infrastructure in an effort to disrupt the economy and destroy Ukrainian morale.

The Air Defense Forces shot down 87 cruise missiles and 27 attack drones out of 158 missiles and drones launched by Russia, General Valery Zalushny, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said. However, none of the 20 or so ballistic missiles were intercepted.

Smoke rises high above the city skyline, and three tower blocks can be seen in the foreground
Smoke rises over Kiev after Russian missile and drone strike © Gleb Garanich/Reuters

President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote in Telegram: “Today, Russia attacked everything in its arsenal: Daggers, S-300, cruise missiles, UAVs. Strategic bombers launched the Kh-101/Kh-505. About 110 missiles were fired, most of which were shot down. Unfortunately, as a result of the shelling, there are dead and injured.

An attack with a large number of different missiles would have a high chance of destroying Ukraine's largely Western-provided air defense systems.

The Friday morning strike was massive. Russia fired cruise missiles from 18 Tu-95 “Bear” bombers, ballistic missiles from Tu-22 supersonic aircraft, Kinzhals from MiG-31 fighter jets and ground-launched air defense ballistic missiles, officials said.

Four people were killed in Odesa, on the southern coast, and three in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv.

“We are doing everything to strengthen our air defense,” Andriy Yermak, head of the presidential administration, wrote in a telegram. “But the world needs to see that we need more support and strength to stop this terrorism.”

Poland's military said on Friday that a suspected Russian missile briefly flew over Polish airspace but was tracked by both Polish and allied forces during its three-minute flight over the Ukrainian border.

Although the incident violated Polish airspace, it was considered part of Russia's massive missile attack against Ukraine, said Polish Army Chief of General Staff General Wiesław Kukula.

In November 2022, two people were killed by a misguided missile identified as a Ukrainian S-300 air defense interceptor in eastern Poland.

Additional reporting by Raphael Minder

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