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Russia launches one of its biggest combined drone and missile strikes across Ukraine

The Kremlin offensive killed at least 18 people and came on the heels of Kyiv’s destruction of one of its warships in Crimea. Poland claims that an ‘unidentified aerial object’ entered its airspace from the Ukrainian side

Russian missile and drone strike in Kyiv
An explosion of a missile is seen during a Russian missile and drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine December 29, 2023.GLEB GARANICH (REUTERS)
María R. Sahuquillo

It was a massive hail of missiles and drones. On Friday, large explosions and rattling windows awakened many residents of Dnipro and other major Ukrainian cities, forcing people to seek shelter as the 674th day of the war came to an end. Early this morning, Russia launched a massive combined attack of drones and missiles, in which it targeted hospitals, schools, factories, shopping malls, apartments and warehouses in Kyiv, Kharkov, Odessa, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv and Dnipro; these are large towns located far from the frontlines, where citizens have settled into a new normal. The attack was one of the largest of its kind since the Kremlin launched the full-scale invasion. The Kremlin’s offensive occurred three days after Ukraine destroyed a Russian warship in the occupied Crimean port of Feodosia, dealing a major blow to the Russian navy. There are at least 18 dead and dozens wounded across the country. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has put the number of missiles that Moscow launched on Ukrainian territory at 110, in addition to drones. In total, there were about 150 projectiles. According to the president, air defenses intercepted most of them.

Following the wave of attacks, Poland — a member of NATO and the European Union — reported that an “unidentified aerial object” entered its airspace from the Ukrainian side of the border. Warsaw believes it was probably a Russian missile. The projectile traveled 40 kilometers (25 miles) and spent less than three minutes over Polish territory before changing course and returning to Ukrainian airspace. Polish Army Chief of Staff Wieslaw Kukula explained the episode following a meeting convened by President Andrzej Duda, which included members of Donald Tusk’s government and senior military commanders. In November 2022, a Ukrainian air defense missile attempting to intercept a Russian attack landed in Poland, killing two people in the town of Przewodów. The wreckage of a Russian missile that had fallen in a forest in the middle of the country in December 2022 was found in April of this year.

“Today, Russia is fighting with almost everything it has in its arsenal,” Zelenskiy said on social media. For several hours, the Kremlin pounded Ukrainian territory with hypersonic, cruise and ballistic missiles, including X-22s, which are extremely difficult to intercept, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat announced on Ukrainian television. “We have never seen so many sites attacked simultaneously,” Ihnat added. If Zelenskiy’s tally is confirmed, Friday’s shelling of six major cities would be the largest of its kind since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The previous most powerful attack occurred in November 2022, when Moscow’s forces launched 96 missiles on Ukrainian territory.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal claims that Russia has targeted civilian and essential infrastructure in an episode similar to last year, when Moscow attempted to leave millions of people without electricity and heating in the middle of winter. Russia has also hit military facilities, including a factory for airplane and missile parts, in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

In Dnipro, one attack damaged a shopping center, several apartment complexes and houses and a maternity hospital, where 12 women had to take refuge in the hospital’s shelter and four newborns were evacuated when the alerts went off. Almost all the hospital’s windows were broken. In the courtyard of one of the damaged apartment complexes, near the shopping center, the authorities set up a small tent where neighbors crowded together on a particularly gray morning. Liudmila Sergueyeva, 68, huddled in her gray coat and waited to inform those manning the tent that her apartment was one of those affected. “There is no more glass, it’s all broken,” she lamented. She said that she was preparing for her daughter and her three grandchildren to visit this afternoon to celebrate the New Year. “Now what are we going to do?” she wondered.

The Kremlin’s bombardment of this central Ukrainian city, a major communications hub that is essential for logistics, has killed five people and wounded over twenty more, according to the mayor’s office. Just a few streets away, in a hairdresser’s shop, two women were waiting their turn. Russia has launched at least 7,400 missiles since the large-scale invasion began (an average of 11 a day). Ukrainians are trying to resist and survive, adopting new routines.

One of the buildings affected by the Russian attack on Dnipro on Friday.
One of the buildings affected by the Russian attack on Dnipro on Friday.ARSEN DZODZAIEV (EFE)

The Russian attack on Friday has affected almost all of Ukraine, from Kharkov (the country’s second most populous city before the war) in the east, less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Russia, to Lviv, in the west, located 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Poland. According to the local government, the attack damaged a hospital and several residential buildings in Kharkov.

In Kyiv, seven people were injured by the remains of shells intercepted by Ukrainian air defense, mayor Vitali Klitschko said. He added that three people were trapped in the rubble of a warehouse hit by the bombing. On his Telegram channel, Klitschko noted that a train station serving as a bomb shelter was also struck.

In Lviv, which is far away from the frontlines and considered to be one of the safest cities, one person was killed and several were wounded as a result of the attacks early this morning, local authorities say. In the port city of Odessa, two people were killed and at least 15 wounded, including children, as a result of the shelling, which hit residential buildings. Recently, Ukraine has greatly improved its air defenses thanks to Western aid, but gaps remain. It is especially vulnerable to combined shelling by missiles and drones. Today’s massive bombardment overwhelmed air defenses, which, according to Kyiv, intercepted 114 of 158 missiles and drones.

Friday’s Russian attack came as Ukraine is preparing to celebrate the new year, one of the great traditional celebrations, which is almost more important than Christmas. The bombardment also followed Ukrainian destruction of the Russian landing ship Novocherkassk, in occupied Crimea, in an air offensive, representing the umpteenth blow to the Russian navy. Finally, the offensive took place a day after the United States approved another military aid package for Kyiv worth about $220,819,000; it includes air defense material, ammunition and anti-tank weapons.

That U.S. aid package is the last one available to Ukraine until Congress approves more, but talks to do so are at a standstill. Some $55 billion is blocked by political infighting in Washington (mostly by Republicans), and part of those funds could be earmarked for defense materials. The EU seeks to approve another package of €50 billion ($55 billion) to keep Ukraine afloat, which would mainly go to the administration, but Hungary has vetoed that aid for the time being.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell condemned Russia’s “cowardly and indiscriminate” attacks. One of the main architects of the European Union’s plans to provide military aid to Kyiv, Borrell said that the EU remains committed to supporting Kyiv. Zelenskiy’s government is worried about dwindling Western support. In a status report on its budget, the Ukrainian president warned allies that if the promised financial lifeline does not arrive, it may be forced to stop paying some two million civil servants and cut social aid to over a million people, as EL PAÍS reported.

Progress on the battlefield seems stalled and the war has turned into a struggle for positions after the Ukrainian counteroffensive failed to achieve its desired objectives. The Ukrainian army wants to receive increasingly more sophisticated weapons, as well as additional ammunition. Kyiv is calling for a new donors’ conference.

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