In Wave of Strikes, Russian Missiles Kill 12 Across Ukraine
KYIV, Ukraine — Russia fired dozens of missiles at Ukrainian cities on Thursday, piercing snow clouds and air defenses to kill at least 12 people across the country, in the Kremlin’s campaign to punish civilians while its army fights in Ukraine’s east.
The wave of strikes came a day after Germany and the United States pledged to send dozens of battle tanks to Ukraine, a significant step up in Western military support. Ukraine managed to shoot down 47 of the 55 missiles, according to its Air Force command, including 20 in the area around the capital, Kyiv.
But a variety of Russian strikes still killed 11 people across 11 regions, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said. Another 11 people were wounded, and 35 buildings were damaged, it said.
A 12th civilian was killed later in the day when a Russian rocket hit a village council building in Kochubeivka, a tiny community in the Kherson region, a military official said on Telegram.
As it has for months, Russia appeared to target Ukraine’s energy grid in subfreezing winter weather. “The main goal is energy facilities providing Ukrainians with light and heat,” Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, said in a post on Telegram.
Since October, Russia has launched more than a dozen major waves of missiles and drones on Ukraine’s energy facilities, as well as many smaller attacks, in a campaign to impair the power supply and leave civilians without power, heat and light over winter.
The barrages have sometimes come after Ukrainian successes, like its fall campaigns in the northeast and the south, but have continued as the pace of fighting has slowed to a grueling battle of attrition in the east and south.
The missile strikes have often landed in residential areas, as well, sometimes to devastating effect, as when more than 40 people were killed in a strike on an apartment building in Dnipro, in central Ukraine.
Large booms shook Kyiv about 10 a.m. local time on Thursday, sending residents fleeing into subway shelters and basements. The mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said one person had been killed and two wounded when a projectile hit a building in the city’s south.
At least one blast could be heard on camera, interrupting an interview that a member of Ukraine’s Parliament was giving to the broadcaster Sky News. “Where was it?” a woman asks in the video, as the lawmaker and journalist stand amid destroyed Russian tanks. “Not far away.”
Three people were killed in a Russian strike on infrastructure in Zaporizhzhia, the state prosecutor general’s office said on Telegram. There were also reports of missile strikes in the Vinnytsia region in western Ukraine and outside the port city of Odesa, causing “massive power outages” there, according to Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba.
France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, was in Odesa on Thursday to meet with Mr. Kuleba — diplomatic talks that were literally forced underground by the Russian strikes.
“Thanks to a Russian missile, I experienced my 1st diplomatic bilateral meeting in a shelter,” Ms. Colonna tweeted on Thursday, sharing a photo of the ministers at a table in a bare room. “Coffee was warm, merci!”
Mr. Kuleba, who noted that Odesa’s historic center was designated a world heritage site in danger this week by UNESCO, said on Twitter that the meeting was “probably the first time in history when Foreign Ministers hold talks in the basement of an Opera House.”
The U.N. agency’s designation gives the city, which was conquered in the late 18th century by the Russian Empire and given the name Odesa by the empress Catherine the Great, “access to reinforced technical and financial international assistance,” UNESCO said. “Ukraine may request this to ensure the protection of the property and, if necessary, assist in reconstruction if attacked.”
Ms. Colonna said that the ministers had discussed French support for Ukraine, saying, “Our assistance will continue in all areas and for as long as necessary.”
Mr. Kuleba — who joked that the French minister was “the Catherine I’m pleased to see in Odesa” — has pressed Ukraine’s supporters in Europe and the United States to significantly increase their military aid. Not long after Germany and the United States announced they would send dozens of battle tanks to Ukraine, he called for “Western-type fighter jets.”
Ukrainian officials have argued that such warplanes would help them defend against Russia’s missile volleys.
For the past week, Russia’s Air Force has been conducting exercises north of Ukraine in Belarus, keeping Ukraine on heightened alert. Countrywide air attack sirens have sounded each time Russian planes take to the air.
Overnight, according to Ukraine’s Air Force Command, Ukraine’s air defenses shot down 24 Iranian-made Shahed exploding drones.
Both the United States and Germany have pledged Patriot air-defense missile batteries to Ukraine, and the U.S. military is training Ukrainian troops in Oklahoma on how to use the weapon, which is the most advanced American ground-based air-defense system.
The Biden administration has significantly increased its military aid to Ukraine over the past year, gradually expanding the array of arms it has agreed to provide to include HIMARS rocket artillery systems last summer, Stryker armored fighting vehicles, Patriot missiles and, now, M1 Abrams tanks. Britain has promised to send some of its Challenger 2 tanks, while Germany has agreed to supply some of its Leopard 2 tanks and to allow other countries to give theirs to Ukraine.
Military experts and Western officials say they believe that Ukraine and Russia will both attempt offensives in the spring, as Kyiv puts to use the heavy weapons sent from the West and Russia deploys the huge numbers of men it drafted last year.
“The spring and summer look like they’re going to be fairly decisive,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russian studies at C.N.A., a research institute in Arlington, Va. Speaking on the podcast “War on the Rocks” this week, Mr. Kofman said that in its next offensive, Ukraine would have “a strong opportunity to show that it can continue retaking territory.”
But unlike its past offensives in the Kharkiv region to the northeast and the Kherson region to the south, “the next offensive comes with risk,” he said. “If it’s not successful, Ukraine faces the real danger of a counteroffensive.”
Michael Schwirtz reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Alan Yuhas from New York.