By Pavel Polityuk and Andriy Perun
KYIV/ZOLOCHIV, Ukraine (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Russia launched a huge wave of missiles across Ukraine on Thursday as people slept, killing at least nine civilians and knocking out power in an attack that Kiev said included six Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missiles, one of Moscow’s most valuable weapons.
The mass attacks on targets far from the front were the first wave of its kind since mid-February and shattered the longest lull since Moscow began an air campaign against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure five months ago.
They also briefly forced Europe’s largest nuclear power plant off the grid.
“The occupiers can only terrorize civilians. That’s all they can do. But it won’t help them. They won’t avoid responsibility for everything they’ve done,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, describing the attacks that targeted infrastructure and residential buildings in ten regions.
Russia’s defense ministry said it carried out a “massive retaliatory strike” in revenge for a cross-border raid last week. It said it hit all of its intended targets, destroying drone bases, disrupting railroads and damaging facilities that make and repair weapons.
Residents of Zolochiv in Ukraine’s western Lviv region carried a body in a black plastic bag over the rubble of a brick house that was completely destroyed by a missile strike. They put the body in the back of a white van with another. A dog lay curled up on a carpet in the ruins.
Oksana Ostapenko said the house belonged to her sister Halyna, whose body was still buried under the rubble with two other family members.
“They haven’t found them yet. We were hoping they were alive. But they are not alive,” he said.
Another civilian was reportedly killed by missiles in the central Dnipro region. Three civilians were separately reported killed by artillery in Kherson.
Moscow says such strikes are intended to reduce Ukraine’s combat capability. Kiev says the airstrikes have no military purpose and are aimed at harming and intimidating civilians, a war crime.
In the capital Kiev, a seven-hour alert during the night was the longest of Russia’s five-month air campaign.
“I heard a very loud, very loud explosion. We quickly jumped out of bed and saw a car on fire. Then the other cars caught fire too. The glass in the balconies and windows shattered,” he said. said Liudmyla, 58, holding a baby in her arms on a Kiev street near wrecked cars.
“The kid got scared and jumped out of bed,” she said. “How can they do that? How is that possible? They’re not human.”
Moscow has confirmed that it used hypersonic Kinzhal missiles – dagger in Russian – in Thursday’s attack. Ukrainian officials said it was the first time they had faced so many weapons, which Ukraine has no way to bring down.
The White House said the barrage was “devastating” to watch and Washington would continue to supply Ukraine with air defense capabilities.
Russia is believed to have only a few dozen Kinzhals, which fly many times faster than the speed of sound and are built to carry nuclear warheads with a range of over 2,000 km (1,200 miles). In his speeches, President Vladimir Putin regularly touts the Kinzhal as a weapon for which the transatlantic NATO alliance backing Kiev has no answer.
Ukraine said the attacks cut power to several places, including the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, separating it from the grid and forcing it to use emergency diesel power to avoid a meltdown. It was later reconnected to the Ukrainian power grid, operator Ukrenergo said.
The plant, which Russia has held since capturing it at the start of the war, is close to the front line and both sides have warned of potential disaster in the past. Moscow said it was safe.
The head of UN nuclear surveillance, Rafael Grossi, has called for a protection zone around the plant.
“Every time we roll a die. And if we allow this to continue time after time, one day our luck will run out,” Grossi told the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors.
Kyiv, the port of Odessa and Kharkiv on the Black Sea have all been affected. The targets stretched from Zhytomyr, Vynnytsia and Rivne in the west to Dnipro and Poltava in central Ukraine, officials said.
UKRAINE FIGHTS AT BAKHMUT
On the battlefield, the week has seen apparent change as Ukraine has decided to continue fighting in Bakhmut, a small town that has borne the brunt of a Russian winter offensive in the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Moscow says Bakhmut is important as a step to protect the surrounding Donbas region, a major war target. The West says the ruined city is of little value and Russian forces are sacrificing lives to give Putin his only victory since sending hundreds of thousands of reservists into battle late last year.
It seemed likely that Ukraine would withdraw from Bakhmut, but commanders now say they are inflicting enough damage on the Russian assault forces to justify staying and fighting.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s private Wagner Army who spearheaded the fighting in Bakhmut, said Wednesday his forces controlled all of the city east of a river that passes through it.
Moscow, which says it has annexed a fifth of Ukraine, says it launched its “special military operation” a year ago to combat a security threat. Kiev and the West are calling it an unprovoked war to subjugate an independent state.
(This story was re-archived to remove extraneous words in paragraph 18)
(Reporting by the RockedBuzz via Reuters offices,; Writing by Peter Graff, Alexandra Hudson, Editing by Angus MacSwan)