Thursday, 23 March, 2023

Ukraine hit by new Russian missile barrage

Ukraine hit by new Russian missile barrage

A fresh barrage of Russian missiles battered Ukraine on Thursday, with at least three people killed and electricity cut in most regions in the run-up to New Year celebrations.

In a first, Belarus said a Ukrainian missile had fallen on its territory, sparking a diplomatic protest and a suggestion from Kyiv that the incident might have been engineered by Moscow.

On Thursday morning, blasts were reported across Ukraine -- including in Kyiv, the second city Kharkiv in the east and the western city of Lviv near the border with Poland.

"We have three people killed and six wounded, including a child," said Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi of the day's shelling.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said most regions were without power in freezing temperatures following the bombardment.

"It is especially difficult in Kyiv region and the capital, Lviv region, Odessa and the region, Kherson and the region, Vinnytsia region and Transcarpathia," the Ukrainian leader said.

The missiles struck as far as the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk at the foothills of the picturesque Carpathian Mountains, nearly 1,000 kilometres (around 600 miles) from Russia.

Ukraine's commander-in-chief General Valeriy Zaluzhny said Russia had launched 69 cruise missiles, 54 of which had been shot down.

- 'Senseless barbarism' -

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pointed out that the latest attacks came just as Ukrainians were preparing to celebrate the New Year.

"Senseless barbarism," he tweeted.

On Thursday, the Belarusian defence ministry said its forces had downed a Ukrainian missile near the western city of Brest on the border with Poland, broadcasting footage of fragments that had fallen on a field.

The authorities in Minsk summoned Ukraine's ambassador to protest the incident, said a foreign ministry spokesman.

Later Thursday, Kyiv suggested the incident might have been a Russian ploy to try to draw Belarus into the conflict.

- Kyiv, Lviv hit -

In southern Kyiv, Georgiy Yatsenko, 65, said he was hiding in the basement with three of his grandchildren when there was an explosion.

"There is no glass left in the windows. Everything was blown away."

He would need to cover them with plastic to keep out the cold, he added. "We have to do whatever we can to survive. The main thing is that people are alive."

In the historic city of Lviv, power cuts paralysed public transport.

"We are stuck, getting cold in this tram, but what can we do?" said Iryna Ivaneyko, a tram driver.

"Some people are scared, some are not. This is war. We have to survive this, endure and win."

- 'Russian war crimes' -

The attacks came 10 months into Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. In recent months Russian strikes have targeted the energy grid, leaving millions in the cold in the middle of winter.

The US embassy in Kyiv said Moscow was ramping up its campaign of attacks, "cruelly wielding cold and dark" against Ukraine.

"Russia does not want peace with Ukraine," said British ambassador Melinda Simmons. "Russia wants the subjugation of Ukraine."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Russian troops had "deliberately" targeted and killed civilians.

"There will be no impunity for Russian war crimes," he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile took part by video link in a ceremony that saw the commissioning of new warships and a nuclear-powered submarine.

Western intelligence has said Russia is struggling to meet ordnance needs for the invasion, something Moscow has denied.

Moscow has accused pro-Kyiv forces of targeting Russian military sites and civilian infrastructure.

On Thursday Russian forces shot down a drone near Engels, a key air base hundreds of kilometres from Ukraine's border.

The Engels base has already been targeted twice this month in deadly attacks that Moscow blames on Ukraine.

Moscow has said the strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure are a response to an explosion on the Kerch bridge connecting the Russian mainland to Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.