By Constant Méheut
Russia launched a large-scale air attack against Ukraine on Monday, Ukrainian and Russian officials said, pounding several regions with missiles that killed at least four people, wounded more than 30 others and heavily damaged residential buildings and industrial sites.
Air raid alerts blared across the country from about 6 a.m. after the Ukrainian Air Force reported the takeoff of nearly 20 Russian fighter jets that it said fired more than 50 cruise, ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The tactics appeared to be in keeping with Moscow’s strategy of overwhelming Ukrainian air defenses with waves of different types of aerial weapons.
Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top commander, said that his forces had intercepted about a third of the missiles, suggesting that many had slipped through. “Critical and civilian infrastructure, industrial and military facilities have been attacked,” he said in a statement.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had targeted “Ukrainian military-industrial complex facilities.”
Although the exact targets of the attack and the scale of the damage were not immediately clear, the assault came as Russia has stepped up its airstrikes against Ukraine in recent days, in what appears to be a strategy to degrade Ukrainian industrial and military capabilities and to wear down Ukrainian morale as the war drags on.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said last week that Russia had launched some 300 missiles and more than 200 attack drones against his country in attacks around the New Year. The United Nations said Saturday that 120 civilians had been killed across Ukraine and nearly 480 others injured since Dec. 29.
Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s interior minister, said that the attack Monday had targeted regions across the country, from Khmelnytskyi in the west to Kharkiv in the northeast, adding that rescue workers were trying to pull people from under the rubble.
Unlike previous attacks, the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was not hit on Monday. That might be because the city is well protected by powerful air defense systems, including U.S.-designed Patriot batteries, which are able to shoot down most incoming missiles.
But Ukraine’s lack of air defense systems means it has to juggle resources between the front line and cities far from the fighting. As a result, some cities, such as Kryvyi Rih in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, which was attacked on Monday, are less well defended and are easier targets for Moscow.
Oleksii Kuleba, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said Kryvyi Rih had suffered a “massive missile attack” that had killed a woman as well as damaging gas stations and administrative and residential buildings and causing power outages.
Serhii Lysak, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said that 24 people, including five children, had been injured. He posted pictures on social media showing a raging fire, a flattened house whose ruins were already covered in a thin layer of snow and what appeared to be a warehouse with its facade ripped off.
“The missiles were hitting everywhere,” Lysak wrote.
Data released by the Ukrainian military showed that it had failed to intercept any of the powerful ballistic and hypersonic missiles that Russia fired on Monday.
“It is necessary to understand that such targets can only be shot down by means capable of doing so, in particular, by Patriot systems,” Yurii Ihnat, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, told national television on Monday.
The authorities in the western region of Khmelnytskyi said that two people had been killed there. In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, near the border with Russia, missiles “hit the city’s industrial facilities,” said the mayor, Ihor Terekhov. A woman who had been rescued from the rubble of a building in a small town south of Kharkiv also later died, the regional governor said.
Ukrainian officials had warned for months that Russia was highly likely to strike Ukraine’s energy infrastructure when cold weather began to bite, a repeat of the campaign against the power grid last winter that plunged cities into cold and darkness.
But so far, Ukraine’s energy facilities appear to have been largely unscathed. Instead, Ukrainian and Western military officials say, Russia has been targeting critical industrial and military infrastructure — and repeatedly hitting civilian areas in the process — in what may be an attempt to degrade the country’s ability to sustain a protracted fight that is rapidly burning through equipment and ammunition.
In two recent attacks that mainly targeted Kyiv, the Russian military hit a factory that produces missiles and aircraft parts, a company producing military clothing and workshops manufacturing drones.
“These new operations suggest at least a temporary change of approach in Russia’s use of long-range strikes,” Britain’s military intelligence services said last week, adding, “Russian planners almost certainly recognize the growing importance of relative defense industrial capacity as they prepare for a long war.”
The extent to which Russia will be able to sustain these large-scale attacks in the long term is unclear.
In recent months, Russia stockpiled high-precision missiles and stepped up ammunition production, military analysts said. From about 40 long-range missiles per month a year ago, Russia now produces more than 100 per month, according to the Royal United Services Institute, a research organization in Britain.
But each of the two recent attacks against Kyiv and other cities involved an average of 120 long-range missiles, a rate that is far above Russia’s monthly production capacity. To keep up with the intensity of the barrages, Moscow has turned to North Korea and Iran to obtain more missiles.