Russia fired on military targets across Ukraine on Saturday, in apparent retaliation for the sinking of a major naval vessel and in preparation for an offensive in the Donbas region in the east of the country.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday that the strikes had destroyed workshops at a tank factory in Kiev and a military hardware repair facility in Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine. Also targeted was the Ukrainian military factory on the outskirts of Kiev, called Vizar, which produced the Neptune anti-ship missile that sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, much to the embarrassment of the Kremlin.
The coming battle in the east will largely be fought in open ground, providing far fewer refuges for Ukrainian fighters to hide while launching attacks on Russian armored vehicles, as they have done so successfully in repelling Russian forces around Kiev. . Friday’s Russian missile strikes on Saturday appeared to be calibrated to weaken Ukraine’s ability to withstand armored attacks in that area.
The strikes recalled that where the fighting is concentrated on the ground, Russia can and will still strike anywhere in Ukraine, and they underlined the importance of Ukraine’s industrial capacity, including its ability to make and repair weapons.
Why Russia waited up to two months into the war to attack these facilities is unclear. While the attacks could have been in response to the sinking of the Moskva, the Russian Defense Ministry has not acknowledged that Ukrainian missiles hit the ship, which it said was fatally injured in a fire and ammunition explosion.
Some analysts have pointed to the recent appointment of a top Russian commander on the battlefield in Ukraine, General Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, as a factor in Moscow’s strategy. He is expected to address the lack of coordination and planning that has hampered Russian forces thus far by reorganizing and diverting them for the fighting in Donbas.
Saturday’s rocket and missile strikes also rained down an airport in central Ukraine, the Black Sea port of Odessa, the northeastern city of Kharkov and the western city of Lviv. Explosions from at least one attack shook Kiev, the capital, and Ukraine’s air defense forces said it shot down a salvo of four cruise missiles fleeing elsewhere in the country.
Moscow took diplomatic retaliation against the West on Saturday, banning Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other senior British officials from entering the country for their support of Ukraine, Russia’s foreign ministry said. Mr Johnson was a leading voice in Europe against Moscow, even traveling to Kiev a week ago to meet the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Britain has provided Ukraine with new anti-ship missile systems, armored vehicles and other military equipment. Ukrainian fighters have used lightweight anti-tank weapons supplied by Britain to a devastating effect on Russia’s armored vehicles.
In Germany, the economy minister called on people to reduce their energy consumption, including by closing curtains and lowering the temperature in their homes, as part of what he described as a national effort to reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels as response to the invasion of Russia. from Ukraine. Germany has joined other Western countries in imposing embargoes on Russian coal and possibly oil, but is reluctant to do the same with Russian gas, which accounts for more than half of its gas imports.
“We can only become more independent from Russian imports if we see it as a big joint project in which we all participate,” Minister Robert Habeck told the Funke media group on Friday. He added, referring to Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin, “It’s easy on the wallet and annoys Putin.”
In the weeks since Ukrainian forces repulsed the Russian attempt to take Kiev, residents have flocked back into the city. But Saturday’s slamming windows were a stark reminder that the war is far from over, even far from the front.
Russia’s cruise missiles, the main weapon in Saturday’s attacks, could strike long-range locations across the country. Air raids blared into Kiev all day Saturday, and at night the distant, dull thud of exploding anti-aircraft missiles could be heard in the skies above the city.
“Our air defenses are working, our army is defending us, yet there were explosions,” Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a statement to Telegram. One person was killed and several others injured in the strike, he said.
In the statement, Mr Klitschko said Kiev remains a target for Russia despite the defeat of its ground attack force, which hastily withdrew, leaving burnt tanks in its wake, its own war dead and hundreds of civilian bodies on the streets. Police said on Friday they have found 900 bodies of civilians so far in the Kiev region, the administrative district surrounding the capital.
President Zelensky said in a late-night speech on Saturday that Russian troops had been forced out of nearly 1,000 villages and towns of various sizes in Ukraine. Most of the liberated communities are in the northern parts of the country and had suffered extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure during the months of Russian occupation.
Mr Zelensky also acknowledged that the Ukrainian army had lost as many as 3,000 troops in combat to date, while insisting that Russian fatalities were much higher.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the air defense force said it had shot down four cruise missiles headed toward Lviv, and a missile exploded in mid-air near Odessa. Also near Odessa, Ukraine shot down a Russian unmanned aerial vehicle as it scouted military sites, local authorities said.
Later acknowledged Mr. Zelensky that Russia seemed ready to take full control of Mariupol, a strategic southern port, with its forces in control of all but a small part of a besieged city that they have reduced to ruins. In recent days, Russian troops have advanced into the city center, and the remaining Ukrainian troops, who have nestled in the sprawling Azovstal steel plant and in the port of Mariupol, are outnumbered and desperately short of supplies.
“Nevertheless, our boys are defending heroically,” said Mr. Zelensky to Ukrainian media. “We are grateful to them for that.”
Near Kirovograd in central Ukraine, Russian long-range missiles hit an airport on Thursday evening, according to a local mayor, who said there were deaths and injuries after the attack, but did not specify how many.
Cruise missile attacks in Kiev continued almost daily during the war, but often hit targets in remote areas, without causing much disruption to life in the city, which has now been revived. So far, missiles have not hit key government buildings, including the presidential office and parliament.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
“The war continues in Kiev and we cannot relax,” said Galina Ostapenko, 72, a retired postal worker, who was walking in the yard of her apartment building about a block from the site of the strike on Saturday.
“What happened hurts my heart,” she said of the explosion in her neighborhood. “I will teach my grandchildren to hate the Russians.”
As Russia ramps up its attacks on Ukrainian military targets, Washington has in recent days stepped up its efforts to provide Ukraine with advanced weapons and long-range artillery pieces. Russia warned Washington of “unpredictable consequences” if it continues to ship heavy weapons to Ukraine.
The precision munitions attacks came as Russia continued to move equipment and troops into position for a renewed offensive, which military analysts have warned could be both long and bloody.
Stretching for some 300 miles from Kharkov in the north to Mariupol in the south, many of the people living in the region have fled as weeks of shelling destroyed critical infrastructure, flattened homes and left dozens dead.
The shelling has increased as Russia positions troops and equipment for a full-scale attack. Unlike the precision strikes on military targets in other parts of the country, the indiscriminate bombing in the east often targets homes and infrastructure.
On Saturday, a Russian shell hit an oil refinery in the city of Lysychansk in the Luhansk region and set off a major fire, according to Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor. “Firing continues in residential areas of Lysychansk and locals are being asked to remain in shelters,” he wrote in a social media post.
In Kharkiv, where Russia is trying to hold on to Ukrainian forces as its forces attempt to advance further south, two people were killed and 18 others injured when what appeared to be guided missiles hit a shopping center in the heart of the shattered city.
In Dnipro, the local government said a Russian missile hit an abandoned poultry farm.
There were also reports from local and national Ukrainian officials of Russian rocket attacks on Poltava, Kirovohrad, Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv.
Even as Ukrainians take stock of the devastation left behind after the Russian occupation in the north of their country, the situation in the areas under Russian occupation remains dire.
Ukrainians also say Russian troops are trying to cover up evidence of war crimes in places they control, although witness statements and statements to that effect from local officials are impossible to verify because Russian forces have blocked access to outsiders.
Local residents have passed on reports of Russian soldiers exhuming the bodies of civilians buried in the yards of residential buildings in Mariupol, and forbidding people from burying or removing the bodies of the dead, according to a statement on the city council’s Telegram channel. . Local officials say Russia is burning the bodies as part of an effort to hide the scale of the massacre in the city.
Andrew E. Kramer message from Kyiv, Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Kharkiv, Ukraine.