Russia launched a large missile attack against several Ukrainian cities on Friday morning, killing several people, injuring many others and damaging infrastructure as part of a new wintertime air campaign that Ukrainian officials had long warned of and which Ukrainians had been awaiting with dread.
In one of the largest nationwide assaults in months, missiles and debris slammed into warehouses, hospitals and schools in cities across Ukraine, from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east. At least 12 people were killed and dozens more were wounded, Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, said.
In Kyiv, the capital, huge plumes of black smoke were rising from several areas, cutting through the blue morning sky. In the center of the city, a large warehouse was hit and firefighters were working to extinguish a blaze that was raging amid piles of smashed brick walls and windows. Just a few miles away, columns of black and white smoke were billowing from a warehouse. Workers at the warehouse said they had seen a missile slamming into it shortly before 8 a.m.
The strikes followed months of warnings by the Ukrainian authorities that Russia was likely to pound Ukrainian cities and target their infrastructure when cold weather began to bite, in a repeat of last year’s winter campaign against civilian targets and the country’s energy grid, which plunged many areas into cold and darkness.
Since then, Ukraine’s Western allies have provided the country’s military with powerful air defense systems that have repelled many Russian attacks. But while the level of destruction countrywide on Friday had yet to come into focus, the scale of the Russian strikes appeared to have overwhelmed Ukraine’s air defenses. Ukraine’s military said that Russia had launched 122 missiles and 36 drones overnight, and that Ukraine had shot down only 114 of them.
Despite being bolstered with modern Western weapons, Ukraine’s supply of surface-to-air missiles — key ordnance needed to down incoming Russian missiles — is running short. And with a front line more than 600 miles long, the anti-air defenses must be evenly distributed to protect Ukrainian troops from Russian attack helicopters and jets.
This has left Kyiv’s forces in a difficult position as they juggle resources between the front line and cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Lviv.
Volodymyr Maliukhnenko, a 53-year-old employee at the Kyiv warehouse that was struck, said he had been starting his day shift when the assault occurred. He said the blast had thrown him about five yards and that he had temporarily lost consciousness. As he spoke, employees around him were discussing what stock might be salvageable.
In Lviv, where missiles strikes have been rare, the distant thud of explosions prompted residents to stop their morning commutes and stare toward the horizon before hurrying away. Emergency service sirens echoed through the city.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Lviv, Ukraine.