KYIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Russia fired scores of missiles into Ukraine early on Thursday, targetting Kyiv, the northeastern city of Kharkiv, and other cities in a massive aerial bombardment that sent people rushing to shelters and knocked out power, Ukrainian authorities said.
In Kyiv, a team of emergency workers searched through the smouldering wreckage of a residential house destroyed by a blast, and footage showed the smoke trails of missiles lingering in the sky over the capital. In Kharkiv fire fighters worked to extinguish a blaze at an electricity station.
“Senseless barbarism. These are the only words that come to mind seeing Russia launch another missile barrage at peaceful Ukrainian cities ahead of New Year,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
Ukraine’s military said it shot down 54 missiles out of 69 launched by Russia in an attack that began at 7am local time. Air raid sirens rang out across the country and in Kyiv sounded for five hours – in one of the longest alarms of the war.
“This morning, the aggressor launched air and sea-based cruise missiles, anti-aircraft guided missiles and S-300 ADMS at energy infrastructure facilities of our country,” wrote Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, on Telegram.
Brigadier General Oleksiy Hromov of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said the missiles were fired at “critical and energy infrastructure facilities in the eastern, central, western and southern regions”.
The attacks followed an overnight assault by ‘kamikaze’ drones. Russia has mounted numerous waves of air strikes in recent months on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, leaving millions without power and heat in freezing temperatures.
The latest blitz came hard on the heels of the Kremlin’s rejection of a Ukrainian peace plan, insisting that Kyiv must accept Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions.
Kyiv city military administration said two private houses in Darnytskyi district were damaged by the fragments of downed missiles and a business and a playground were also damaged. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said 16 missiles were shot down over the capital and three people were injured.
Kharkiv mayor Ihor Terekhov said officials were clarifying what had been hit and whether there were casualties, while the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, said on Telegram that 90% of his city in western Ukraine was without electricity. The missiles had damaged an energy infrastructure unit.
In Odesa region, in southwest Ukraine, air defence units shot down 21 missiles, its governor Maksym Marchenko said. The fragments of one missile hit a residential building, though no casualties were reported, he added.
Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians, but Ukraine says its daily bombardment is destroying cities, towns, and the country’s power, medical and other infrastructure.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a video address, urged Ukrainians to hug loved ones, tell friends they appreciate them, support colleagues, thank their parents and rejoice with their children more often.
“We have not lost our humanity, although we have endured terrible months,” he said. “And we will not lose it, although there is a difficult year ahead.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what President Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbour. Kyiv and its Western allies have denounced Russia’s actions as an imperialist-style land grab.
Sweeping sanctions have been imposed on Russia for the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people, driven millions from their homes, left cities in ruins and shaken the global economy, driving up energy and food prices.
There is still no prospect of talks to end the war.
Zelenskiy is vigorously pushing a 10-point peace plan that envisages Russia respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and pulling out all its troops.
But Moscow dismissed it on Wednesday, reiterating that Kyiv must accept Russia’s annexation of the four regions – Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south. It also says Ukraine must accept the loss of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
There can be no peace plan “that does not take into account today’s realities regarding Russian territory, with the entry of four regions into Russia”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Zelenskiy’s idea of driving Russia out of eastern Ukraine and Crimea with Western help and getting Moscow to pay damages to Kyiv is an “illusion”, the RIA news agency reported.
TASS cited Lavrov as saying that Russia would continue to build up its fighting strength and technological capabilities in Ukraine. He said Moscow’s mobilised troops had undergone “serious training” and while many were now on the ground, the majority were not yet at the front.
Zelenskiy told Ukraine’s parliament to remain united and praised Ukrainians for helping the West “find itself again”.
“Our national colours are today an international symbol of courage and indomitability for the whole world,” he said in an annual speech held behind closed doors.