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Civilians die in Russia’s biggest missile wave in weeks

Russia has battered Ukraine with its biggest air strike in months which has included hypersonic kinzhal missiles – the type Ukraine cannot defend against.

March 10, 2023
By Pavel Polityuk and Andriy Perun
10 March 2023

Russia launched a huge wave of missile strikes across Ukraine while people slept, killing at least six civilians, knocking out electricity and briefly forcing Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant off the grid.

The first such mass attack on targets far from the front since mid-February shattered the longest calm since Moscow began an air campaign against Ukraine’s civil infrastructure five months ago. Kyiv said it included an unprecedented six kinzhal hypersonic cruise missiles, one of Moscow’s most valuable weapons.

“The occupiers can only terrorise civilians. That’s all they can do. But it won’t help them. They won’t avoid responsibility for everything they have done,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a statement, describing Thursday’s strikes that hit infrastructure and residential buildings in ten regions.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had carried out a “massive retaliatory strike” as payback for a cross-border raid last week. It claimed to have hit all its intended targets, destroying drone bases, disrupting railways and damaging facilities that make and repair arms.

Moscow says its campaign against targets far from the front, which began in October, is intended to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight. Kyiv says the air strikes have no military purpose and aim to harm and intimidate civilians, a war crime.

In the capital Kyiv, the seven-hour alert through the night was the longest of Russia’s five-month air campaign.

Moscow confirmed it had used hypersonic kinzhal missiles in Thursday’s attack. Ukrainian officials said it was the first time they had faced so many of the weapons, which Ukraine has no way to shoot down.

Russia is believed to have just a few dozen kinzhals, which fly many times faster than the speed of sound and are built to carry nuclear warheads with a range of more than 2000 km. In his speeches, President Vladimir Putin regularly touts the kinzhal as a weapon for which NATO has no answer.

Ukraine said the attacks had also knocked out the power supply to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, severing it from the Ukrainian grid and forcing it onto emergency diesel power to prevent a meltdown. It was later reconnected to Ukraine’s energy grid, operator Ukrenergo said.

The plant, which Russia has held since capturing it early in the war, is near the front line and both sides have warned in the past of a potential for disaster. Moscow said it was safe.

UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi appealed for a protection zone around the plant.

“Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue time after time then one day our luck will run out,” Grossi told the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

Kyiv, the Black Sea port of Odesa and the second-largest city Kharkiv were all hit. Targets stretched from Zhytomyr, Vynnytsia and Rivne in the west to Dnipro and Poltava in central Ukraine, officials said.

On the battlefield, the week has seen an apparent shift as Ukraine has decided to fight on in Bakhmut, a small city that has borne the brunt of a Russian winter offensive in the bloodiest fighting of the war.

Moscow says Bakhmut is strategically important as a step to securing the surrounding Donbas region, a major war aim. The West says the ruined city has little value and Russian generals are sacrificing lives to give Putin his only victory since sending hundreds of thousands of reservists into battle at the end of last year.

Ukraine had appeared likely to withdraw from Bakhmut, but commanders now say they are inflicting enough damage on Russia’s assault force to justify staying and fighting on.

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