KYIV, Ukraine — Russia launched a broad pre-dawn aerial assault at targets across Ukraine on Monday, the second wide-ranging attack in four days, as fighting appeared to intensify ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
At least 34 people, including five children, were wounded in Russian strikes on the central Ukrainian city of Pavlograd, according to local officials. Serhiy Lysak, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, which includes Pavlograd, said dozens of buildings, including schools and homes, were damaged in the strikes, which set off a massive fire that lit up the night sky.
Explosions also echoed in the skies above the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and other parts of the country before dawn as Ukrainian air defenses shot down 15 of 18 Russian cruise missiles, according to the Ukrainian military. Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that it had launched “a long-range high-precision air and sea-based missile strike against Ukrainian military-industrial complex facilities.”
Herman Galushchenko, Ukraine’s energy minister, said the overnight strikes did not impact power generating facilities but caused “significant damage” to distribution networks in and around the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine, cutting scores of people off from the power grid.
The missile barrage came as Ukrainian forces stepped up efforts to strike Russian targets behind the front lines ahead of an expected push to recapture lost territory with the support of newly delivered, powerful weapons from Western allies. Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said Monday in an appearance on national television that the military was “reaching the finish line” in preparations to launch a counteroffensive and that commanders would decide “how, where and when.”
Both sides have reported escalating attacks in recent days. After firing a rocket into an apartment block in central Ukraine on Friday, killing at least 23 people, Russia bombarded Ukrainian towns and villages along the front line over the weekend while a series of explosions also took place deep behind Russian lines.
The flurry of strikes could signal the start of a shift in a conflict that has for months settled into a grinding war of attrition, with tens of thousands of soldiers killed and wounded in heavy fighting across eastern Ukraine but little territory being gained by either side.
Across the north, east and south of Ukraine, regional authorities over the course of 24 hours reported Russian artillery, mortar, rocket or drone strikes in 11 regions, killing at least three people and destroying more than a hundred residential buildings. Ukrainian officials said that Moscow’s forces shelled the Kherson region in southern Ukraine 39 times on Sunday, killing at least one civilian and injuring several others.
On Saturday, a blast hit an oil depot in Sevastopol, the home to the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet in occupied Crimea. The spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern command, Natalia Humeniuk, said the depot fire was part of preparations for “the broad, full-scale offensive that everyone expects” Ukraine to launch soon.
The Ukrainian military said on Monday morning that it had launched four strikes on concentrations of Russian troops over the preceding 24 hours, but provided no details.
Residents of the occupied southern city of Berdiansk reported overnight that a strike hit a Russian airfield, according to Ukrainian media and Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the exiled mayor of the nearby city of Mariupol. The extent of any damage was unclear.
While Russia continues trying to mount attacks in and around ruined towns and cities of eastern Ukraine, they have moved into defensive positions in the south, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.
Britain’s defense intelligence agency said on Monday that Russian forces had “constructed some of the most extensive systems of military defensive works seen anywhere in the world for many decades” not only near the front line but also “deep inside areas Russia currently controls.” In a Twitter post, the agency said the extensive network highlights “Russian leaders’ deep concern that Ukraine could achieve a major breakthrough.”
The New York Times