Russia Blasts Ukrainian Cities, Including Biggest Use of Advanced Missiles

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia launched its biggest aerial barrage in weeks on Thursday, blasting targets across Ukraine with a diverse array of weapons, including its newest hypersonic missiles, in what it said was retaliation for an armed incursion into Russian territory last week.

Volleys of missiles streaked into Kyiv and other cities overnight and in the predawn, setting off air raid sirens and jarring people from their sleep with thunderous booms, and killing at least six people, Ukrainian officials said.

The strikes included six of the new Russian missiles known as Kinzhals, the most Russia has used in a single wave since the war began a year ago, according to Ukraine’s Air Force. They are hypersonic — meaning they travel at more than five times the speed of sound, and Russia has hinted at much higher speeds — and can maneuver in flight, making them all but impossible to shoot down.

Several missiles hit electrical power plants, damaging three of them, continuing a Russian campaign to black out Ukrainian cities and undermine morale, and Moscow’s forces followed their usual tactic of trying to overwhelm air defenses with waves of missiles of various kinds and drones fired at intervals through the night.

“It was a massive strike, from multiple directions, firing from the air and sea and with kamikaze drones,” Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force, said of the barrage, the latest of a dozen or so large-scale missile attacks that began in October.

Russia fired 81 cruise and ballistic missiles of nine different types on Thursday, from air, land and sea, along with eight Iranian-made exploding drones, the Ukrainian military said. Forty-seven missiles penetrated Ukrainian defenses and hit targets — a far higher success rate than in other major Russian missile attacks in recent months.

That was because the barrage used more than the usual number of high-speed missiles, including ballistic missiles and Kinzhals, that Ukraine has no ability to stop, and fewer of the relatively slower, more vulnerable cruise missiles that Ukrainians have become adept at shooting down, Mr. Ihnat said in an interview.

Ukraine’s military intelligence agency has estimated Russia had, before the volley fired Thursday, no more than 50 Kinzhals, Mr. Ihnat said. It was not clear why Moscow’s forces would have used such a large part of a limited supply of one of its most sophisticated weapons, one whose existence was first revealed five years ago and which was developed to breach American antimissile defense systems.

“For one reason or another, they needed a result” this time, he said. He added that the use of Kinzhals could also indicate that Russia is “expending its strategic reserve” of alternatives.

More than a year of war has depleted Russia’s stocks of cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles. Russia has taken to using S-300 antiaircraft missiles to hit targets on the ground, a role in which they are not very accurate. It has also bought attack drones from Iran, which are far less expensive but also less powerful and easier to shoot down, and has used many of them.

Five of the people killed in the attacks were in the western Lviv region bordering Poland, a region far from the front lines that has been spared the worst of the war’s barbarity but is well within reach of Russian missiles. The victims, three men and two women, were in their homes in the Zolochiv district when a missile struck around 4 a.m. local time, Maksym Kozytskyi, the head of the region’s military administration, said on the Telegram messaging app.

He said the attack started a fire that “destroyed three residential buildings, three cars, a garage and several outbuildings,” before being extinguished.

Images and videos of the aftermath of the attack, posted on social media, showed emergency responders digging through piles of rubble, and partial shells of destroyed buildings.

The scene of that strike lies more than 400 miles from the nearest front lines, and some 600 miles from the most intense recent fighting, for control of the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut, where a battle has ground on for months and claimed tens of thousands of casualties.

Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group that is spearheading the Russian offensive in Bakhmut, claimed on Wednesday that his forces had seized the eastern side of the city, and that conquering the western portion would open the way for a broader Russian advance. After prolonged, house-to-house combat, Ukrainian forces have blown up bridges across the river that bisects the city, and ordered the evacuation of the few remaining children.

A top Ukrainian general offered a rare public retort on Thursday, without responding directly to Wagner’s claim of control, insisting that nothing resembling a Russian victory had occurred or would occur. Far from giving up on the city, Ukraine is reinforcing the garrison there, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said in comments released by the military’s press office.

“The defense of Bakhmut becomes more relevant” each day, he said, and was exacting an immense toll on the Russians.

In another theater of the war, strikes temporarily cut power lines linking Ukrainian-held territory to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Operators were forced to switch to backup diesel generators to cool reactor cores, preventing a nuclear accident until the regular power supply could resume.

It was the sixth time the plant had to move to its emergency power supply since the war began, the top United Nations nuclear official, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said.

“If we allow this to continue time after time, then one day our luck will run out,” he said.

The aerial bombardment of far-flung cities and towns on Thursday followed weeks of false air raid alarms, as Russia flew small drones and floated balloons over Ukraine, in what were seen as probes of the country’s air defenses in search of weaknesses.

It also came a week after a cross-border raid into the Bryansk region of southern Russia by a paramilitary group of Russian émigrés opposed to President Vladimir V. Putin, operating from Ukraine. The group, calling itself the Russian Volunteer Corps, briefly took control of a village and filmed themselves there before slipping back across the border, and took responsibility for the incursion. Moscow has called the attack an act of terrorism that left two people dead.

Russia’s defense ministry said on Thursday that it had used high-precision weapons including the hypersonic missiles to carry out a “massive retaliatory strike” against Ukraine because of that raid.

Ending weeks of relative calm in Kyiv, the capital, air defense warnings were in effect from 1 a.m. until dawn, as missiles intercepted in flight rained debris on parts of the city and two thunderous blasts rang out about an hour apart before sunrise.

One strike in Kyiv sent a plume of black smoke billowing from the city’s center and rattled windows. Elsewhere, a strike or falling debris engulfed cars in flames in a parking lot. At least one hypersonic Kinzhal hit the capital, an official said.

In the Kharkiv region in the northeast, bordering Russia, 15 missiles hit infrastructure and a residential building, the head of the region’s military administration said on Telegram.

In addition to those killed by missiles, three people died in Russian artillery shelling in the southern city of Kherson, officials said.

Ukraine’s power grid staggered briefly from the strikes as operators at Ukraine’s remaining nuclear power plants dialed back output as a precaution. The city of Kharkiv lost electrical power for a time and authorities switched off power to 15 percent of consumers in Kyiv. Without power, water pumps stopped and taps went dry in some parts of the capital.

But Ukrainians have already endured the Russian missile attacks on electrical and heating infrastructure through the coldest and darkest months of the year.

President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the overnight missile strikes in a post on Telegram Thursday, saying Russia had fired the barrage to “once again try to frighten Ukrainians with a return to this pathetic tactic,” though it would not help Russia in the war.

He wrote that frightening the population is “all they are capable of.”

Reporting was contributed by Victoria Kim in Seoul, and Marc Santora and Maria Varenikova in Kyiv.

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