Russia yesterday boasted of a retaliatory missile strike against Ukraine – briefly plunging Kiev into darkness and cutting off power to a nuclear power station.
But hours after the deadly barrage, lights came back on in the capital and the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant was reconnected – averting the risk of a meltdown.
The overnight blitz included six hypersonic missiles – the most the Kremlin has fired at once.
At least nine civilians were killed after 81 missiles hit targets across Ukraine, including Kharkiv in the north, Odessa in the south and Lviv in the west.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denis Schimel said that Russia had once again failed to destroy his country’s energy infrastructure.
He said: “Russian terrorists launched another large-scale attack against Ukraine.
“Primarily the energy system of Ukraine was targeted. They tried to destroy it and again failed.
But officials warned there was no electricity, water or heating in northern Kharkiv last night.
The barrage included 48 cruise missiles fired from submarines and warships in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Caspian Sea, as well as jets and long-range bombers that took off from Russia and neighboring Belarus.
Russia also fired eight Iranian-made Shaheed kamikaze drones, which officials suspect is a ploy to distract Ukraine’s air defenses.
Ukraine said it shot down 34 of 48 cruise missiles and four of eight Iranian drones.
But Air Force spokesman Colonel Yuri Ihnat warned they were powerless to stop the hypersonic Kinjals and repurposed S-300 missiles, which Russia now uses as a ground attack weapon.
He said: “The enemy used a wide spectrum of weapons to distract the air defense units. They attacked from the three seas with different types of aircraft and ships.
The hypersonic Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, or Dagger missile, can reach five times the speed of sound and cruise at more than 3,850 mph to dodge Ukraine’s air defenses.
Colonel Ihnat said: “I do not remember several Kinjal missiles being launched simultaneously during this war.”
Britain said Russia had few Iranian drones and warned Moscow would try to buy more.
And Western officials have repeatedly claimed that the Kremlin is running out of high-tech missiles and cannot replace them because of sanctions on Western-made parts.
The frequency of Putin’s missile attacks has decreased since he unleashed his fury on the country’s power grid last autumn.
Colonel Ihnat said that Russia has only “a few dozen” Kinjals left.
He also claimed that Ukraine was unable to intercept the destructive Kh-22 missiles, which are capable of carrying 950 kg of warheads.
At least six of them were fired upon in the latest attacks. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russia seized last year, relies on Ukraine’s national grid for electricity to cool the reactors.
Its generators have enough fuel to run for 15 days if the power is cut, officials said.
The latest attacks killed at least five people in a village outside Lviv, one in Dnipro while artillery shelling killed three civilians in the southern city of Kherson.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the attacks were carried out in revenge for attacks by a pro-Ukraine group of Russians in Bryansk, western Russia.
Putin’s barrage of missiles, the biggest since mid-February, was described by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as a “serious breach” of nuclear security.
He said: “Zaporyzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and Russia is endangering the entirety of our united European continent, including Russia.”
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Rafael Mariano Grossi, also warned: “What are we doing to stop this?
“Every time we are rolling a dice. If we allow this to continue time after time, one day our luck will run out.
Residents in the second largest city of Kharkiv stood at a giant shell crater where water supplies had been cut for the day.
In Lviv, a girl rescues her dog from the rubble after two rockets destroyed residential buildings.
In Kiev, 57-year-old Viktor Bukhta was awoken by a missile blast nearby. He said: “We went to the yard. People got injured. Then the cars caught fire.
“We tried to douse them with car fire extinguishers. And I got a little burnt.
It also left parts of the capital without heat, and days later Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, visited a military hospital to award a gallantry medal to a soldier who fought in Bakhmut.
He said yesterday: “The enemy again fired 81 missiles in an attempt to intimidate the Ukrainians, returning to their pathetic tactics.”
While blitzed but not defeated, Ukraine was warned that it could face two years of bloodshed.
Lithuanian military intelligence estimated that Russia had sufficient resources to continue the war at the same intensity for the time being.
Military intelligence chief Elijis Palavicius said: “Russia had been accumulating weapons and equipment over the long years of the Cold War.”
It follows widespread outrage over footage of an unarmed Ukrainian prisoner of war who shouted “Victory to Ukraine” when shot by a machine-gunner.
Meanwhile, 1,000 miles away in Latvia, cars seized from drunk drivers were loaded into lorries destined for use by Ukrainian hospitals and the military.
Police in the Baltic nation have seized 200 vehicles since launching the scheme this year.
Soldiers and medics would use them to drive around Ukraine.
Missiles hit but the lights go back
By Jerome Starkey, Defense Editor
Russia’s latest massive missile attack is a sure sign of Vladimir Putin’s growing frustration.
Having utterly failed to win on the battlefield, Moscow is trying to break Ukraine’s will to fight.
The country’s energy infrastructure has been battered since October by a wave of missiles and drones from submarines, ships, ground-launchers and aircraft.
Moscow wants to plunge Ukraine into icy darkness.
Cut the power and people have no light.
Hit the pumping stations and they have no heating.
People will die.
Putin’s plan evokes the words of British statesman Sir Edward Grey, as he warned on the eve of World War I: “All over Europe the lamps are going out. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
The difference now, however, is that Ukraine refuses to relent.
Despite the devastating attacks, the infrastructure has endured. In some ways it is also improving.
On Wednesday night – hours before the latest blitz – the northern city of Kharkiv turned its streetlights back on for the first time since Russia’s invasion.
In the city center, a huge pole with the Ukrainian flag was lit at night for the first time since February 23 last year.
Electric trains and trolley buses have also resumed operations.
Russian attacks on energy infrastructure began in October in revenge for the Kerch Bridge being blown up – which links mainland Russia to occupied Crimea.
Now, six months later, it looks like another Russian strategy has backfired.
For the past two weeks the town of Kramatorsk – just 20 miles from the so-called “meat grinder” attack in Bakhmut – had electricity and running water 24 hours a day.
It’s the same story in most of Ukraine.
Kiev has been fortunate that the winter has been mild.
Even the legendary General Winter – the name the Russians used to describe the weather to their military ally – seems to have abandoned them in Ukraine.
Western officials have noted that large-scale Russian missile attacks have become less regular, which they put down to a shortage of high-tech weapons.
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