Ukraine says at least 30 killed in massive Russian air assault

Cities across the country hit with Russian drones and missiles in one of the largest aerial barrages of the war.

Emergency workers clear the rubble after a Russian rocket hit a multistory building leaving many people under debris in the southeastern city of Dnipro, Ukraine, on Jan. 14
Emergency workers clear rubble after a Russian rocket hit a multistorey building, leaving many people under the debris in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro [File: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Photo]

Ukrainian officials have said that at least 30 people have been killed and more than 140 wounded after Russia targeted cities across the war-torn country with a massive salvo of missiles and drones in one of the largest aerial assaults of the war.

The Ukrainian military said on Friday that Russia has launched an estimated 158 missiles and drones in the wave of attacks, targeting cities such as Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Lviv. Ukrainian officials say that most of the attacks have been intercepted.

“Today, Russia hit us with almost everything it has in its arsenal,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of the attacks.

The assault illustrated Kyiv’s desperate need for additional defence capabilities, as residents sought shelter from the barrage of projectiles, which Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk called “the most massive aerial attack” since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“There was an explosion, then flames,” Kateryna Ivanivna, a 72-year-old resident of the capital city of Kyiv, told The Associated Press. “I covered my head and got down in the street. Then, I ran into the subway station.”

Smoke rises near a damaged building following a Russian strike in Kyiv
Smoke rises behind a building damaged in Russia’s missile attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, December 29 [Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo]

United States President Joe Biden said on Friday that the assault demonstrates that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goals in Ukraine “remain unchanged” nearly two years after Russia first launched its invasion.

“He seeks to obliterate Ukraine and subjugate its people. He must be stopped,” Biden said in a statement.

While support for Ukraine remains robust among Western countries, further military assistance has met growing pushback by conservative political forces in the US and Europe.

Biden has called on the US Congress to pass an additional assistance package for Ukraine, but that effort has been delayed until the new year as schisms emerge within the Republican Party over continued support.

“Unless Congress takes urgent action in the new year, we will not be able to continue sending the weapons and vital air defense systems Ukraine needs to protect its people. Congress must step up and act without any further delay,” Biden’s statement reads.

With the front line largely bogged down in trench warfare, Russia has in recent weeks returned to its tactic from last winter, during which it targeted infrastructure, especially energy and heating, leaving millions of Ukrainians struggling to stay warm.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal noted that the barrage on Friday targeted critical infrastructure. The Ministry of Energy reported that four Ukrainian regions in the north and south were facing power cuts.

Missiles and drones were also reported to have hit numerous civilian sites, including residential buildings. Falling debris caused fires in a residential building and a warehouse in Kyiv and blasts were heard in Lviv, officials said.

A metro station building in Kyiv being used as a shelter was damaged, Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging app. Twenty-two Russian attacks were recorded in Kharkiv, damaging a hospital, residential buildings and an industrial facility, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said.

“We understand that four areas have been hit here in the capital, Kyiv,” Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig reported. Death and injuries were reported from Dnipro, Baig said, adding that two sites were hit in the western city of Lviv. Rescue teams were working through the damage, he said.

Tensions also remain high in countries that border Ukraine, with Polish authorities reporting on Friday that a Russian missile had entered the country’s airspace for several minutes before leaving.

The surge in Russian attacks has been linked to a successful Ukrainian attack on a Russian warship in Crimea this week.

The Russian military confirmed on Friday that it had since launched dozens of attacks on Ukraine.

“In the period from December 23 to 29, the armed forces of the Russian Federation carried out 50 group strikes and one massive strike … All targets were hit,” it said in a daily update.

Hard to intercept

The Russian military claimed in that report that its attacks were aimed at military facilities.

However, Kyiv pointed out the civilian deaths and damage caused by the barrage and said it illustrates its dire need for increased support from its Western allies, which has become bogged down by political manoeuvring in Washington and Brussels.

Hypersonic, cruise and ballistic missiles, including the X-22, which is hard to intercept, were used in the attacks, said Ukraine’s Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat. “We have not had so many red enemy targets on our monitors for a long time.”

“We are doing everything to strengthen our air shield, but the world needs to see that we need more support and strength to stop this terror,” presidential aide Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram.

Zelenskyy thanked the United States for releasing the last remaining package of weapons available for Ukraine under existing authorisation.

But uncertainty surrounds further aid. The US, Ukraine’s biggest single-country donor, has sent more than $40bn since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, but right-wing Republicans are opposing President Joe Biden’s bid to win approval for additional spending.

The impasse is mirrored in the European Union, where Hungary is blocking a 50-billion-euro ($55bn) aid package. The bloc is due to revisit the issue in January, but it is understood that it will be unable to uphold promises to send one million rounds of ammunition.

Zelenskyy, meanwhile, continues to argue for the West to increase its support. “To defend freedom and security not only in Ukraine and Europe but also in the United States, we must continue to respond to ongoing Russian aggression,” he said.

Western allies responded to the huge barrage on Friday by reiterating their support.

The US ambassador to Kyiv wrote on X that the attacks showed “Ukraine needs funding now to continue to fight for freedom from such horror in 2024.”

People clear debris from the site of a Russian strike
People clear the debris at the site of Russia’s air attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Friday, December 29 [Andriy Andriyenko/AP Photo]

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned Russia’s “cowardly and indiscriminate targeting” of civilians.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the assault illustrated that “Putin will stop at nothing to achieve his aim of eradicating freedom and democracy,” the UK’s defence ministry said on Friday that it was sending 200 air defence missiles to assist Ukraine.

“We will not let him win,” added Sunak. “We must continue to stand with Ukraine – for as long as it takes.”

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said in a statement, “Russia is continuing its strategy of terror aimed at destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in order to undermine the resilience of the Ukrainian population.”

“France will continue to support Ukraine and provide it with the necessary assistance to enable it to exercise its self-defence, in close coordination with its partners.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies