Russia launched another mass aerial attack against electricity network targets across Ukraine, with one of its missiles flying through Moldovan airspace highlighting the risk of the conflict spilling over.
Russian forces fired 71 cruise missiles, 7 Iranian-supplied Shahed attack drones and 35 S-300 missiles, normally used for air defence, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the chief of Ukraine’s general staff, said on Twitter. Ukrainian air defences shot down 61 of the cruise missiles and five of the drones, he added.
Zaluzhnyi said two Russian Kalibr cruise missiles launched from the Black Sea had crossed Moldovan and Romanian airspace before flying back into Ukraine. Ukraine’s air defences could have shot down the Russian missiles but decided not to given the potential risk to residents in neighbouring countries, said air force spokesman Yuriy Ignat.
Two people were killed in Poland in November when a missile landed on a farm near the Polish border. Ukrainian initially claimed it was a Russian missile but it turned out to be a stray Ukrainian S-300 air defence interceptor.
The Moldovan ministry of defence on Friday confirmed that one missile had crossed its airspace before heading back into Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel that the Russian missiles’ flight path was a “challenge to Nato and collective security. This is terror that can and must be stopped.”
However, Romania denied a Russian missile had flown over its territory. The Romanian defence ministry said its air force had monitored a missile launched from a Russian warship that crossed through Ukrainian and Moldovan airspace “without ever intersecting, at any given time, the Romanian airspace”.
The nearest point on the projectile’s trajectory was around 35km north-east of the Romanian border, it said. Unlike Moldova, Romania is a member of Nato. Two military jets under Nato command were scrambled to intercept the missile, in case it crossed the border, but they stood down after two minutes, the ministry said.
A Nato official confirmed the Romanian account.
The attack came a day after Zelenskyy wrapped up a lightning tour of European capitals where he pressed Ukraine’s allies to provide more advanced and long-range weaponry, including fighter jets.
“Arms for Ukraine — the best way to stop Russian arrogance,” Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, wrote on Telegram after the missile strikes.
Friday’s mass missile strike was the 14th since October. Russia’s serial bombardments have largely targeted the country’s power network with the aim of plunging the country into darkness and cold during the winter months. They have caused widespread power shortages but have not succeed in breaking Ukraine’s resolve.
Explosions were heard in Kyiv shortly after 10am local time, although it was unclear whether they were missile strikes or air defences at work. Two cars, a house and power grids were damaged by the debris from a rocket in the Holosiivskyi district of the capital.
Local media also reported explosions in the cities of Vinnytsia and Khmelnytskyi and in the provinces of Lviv, Poltava and Ivano-Frankivsk.
Ukrainian grid operator Ukrenergo said there were strikes at “several high-voltage infrastructure facilities in the eastern, western, southern regions”, triggering power outages. DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy company, said four of its thermal power plants had been damaged. The attack triggered widespread power outages.
Ukrainian officials said late last year that repeated strikes had crippled 40 per cent of the grid infrastructure and many parts of the country have endured rolling power outages for months. However, electricity supplies had become somewhat more reliable in recent weeks as engineers raced to repair damaged equipment.
Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Brussels and Valentina Pop in London