KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia unleashed strategic bombers, killer drones and rockets in a barrage of attacks on Ukrainian targets early Friday, as a military push by Moscow that Kyiv says has been brewing for days appeared to pick up pace ahead of the one-year anniversary of its invasion.
The Kremlin’s forces focused their bombardments on Ukraine’s industrial east, especially the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, the Ukrainian military said. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.
But the barrage went further, taking aim at the capital, Kyiv. It also struck critical infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast. Seven people were wounded there, two of them seriously, regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said.
Air raid sirens went off across much of the country.
The bombardments could be an effort by Russia to soften up Ukraine’s defenses ahead of a ground assault, which Kyiv believes Moscow is planning in the east. There has been little change in battlefield positions for weeks.
Kyiv officials had anticipated a new Moscow thrust, especially in the east, as the Kremlin strives to secure areas it has illegally annexed and where it claims its rule is welcomed.
High-voltage infrastructure facilities were hit in the eastern, western and southern regions, Ukraine’s energy company, Ukrenergo, said, resulting in power outages in some areas. It was the 14th round of massive strikes on the country’s power supply, the company said. The last one occurred on Jan. 26 as Moscow seeks to demoralize Ukrainians by leaving them without heat and water in the bitter winter.
Zaporizhzhia City Council Secretary Anatolii Kurtiev said the city had been hit 17 times in one hour, which he said made it the most intense period of attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
The Ukraine Air Force said Russia launched up to 35 S-300 anti-aircraft guided missiles on the Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia provinces. Those missiles cannot be destroyed in mid-air by air defenses but they have a relatively short range so the Russians have used them for attacks on regions not far from Russian-controlled territory.
The Khmelnytskyi province in Western Ukraine was also attacked with Shahed drones, according to regional Gov. Serhii Hamalii.
Russia has in the past used Iranian-made Shahed drones to strike at key Ukrainian infrastructure and sow fear among civilians, according to Western analysts. They are known as suicide drones because they nosedive into targets and explode on impact like a missile.
The onslaught lent a sense of urgency to Ukraine’s pleas for more Western military support. The need prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to make a rare — and daring — two-day trip abroad this week to press allies to grant Kyiv more aid.
Due to the threat of a missile attack, emergency power outages were enacted in Kyiv city, the Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, according to private energy operator DTEK.
The head of Kyiv City Administration, Serhii Popko, said that “there is a great threat of a missile attack” as Tu-95 strategic bombers are in the air, which can carry cruise missiles on board. The head of Kryvyi Rih city Administration confirmed that Russia had launched missiles and urged people to proceed to the shelters.
Moscow’s ambitions have narrowed since it launched its full-scale invasion, when the capital Kyiv and the installation of a puppet government were among its targets, and it is now focusing its efforts on gaining full control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively known as the Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.
Numerous battlefield setbacks, including yielding eastern areas it had initially captured, have embarrassed Russian President Vladimir Putin.