Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities killed at least two people and did more damage to the embattled country’s power grid, hours after mysterious explosions at two Russian airbases that are home to long-range bombers that attack Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said two people were killed – including a one-year-old infant – and three hurt when missiles hit houses in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, as air-raid sirens alerted people in every region of the country to the latest salvo of Russian rockets.
Shortly after the all-clear signal sounded, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted thanks on social media to his country’s air defence forces – which said they shot down more than 60 of over 70 incoming missiles – and to engineers who were already working to repair fresh damage to the electricity network.
The regions of Odesa, Sumy, Zhytomyr and Kryvyi Rih all reported major power outages due to missile strikes, which in some areas shut down not only heat and light but also water supplies amid wintry weather conditions.
At the same time, however, the high strike rate of Ukraine’s military – using modern air-defence systems supplied by western allies – limited the amount of fresh destruction inflicted on a national grid that lost about 40 per cent of its capacity in earlier attacks.
“The situation with the energy system of Ukraine remains difficult. Electricity shortages continue,” state power provider Ukrenergo said before Monday’s attacks, while warning of more blackouts across the country.
“We all have a difficult heating season ahead of us… Repair crews of Ukrenergo, together with colleagues from regional energy and production companies, are working around the clock to restore equipment damaged during shelling,” the company added.
The interior ministry of neighbouring Moldova reported the discovery of a missile on its territory, close to the Ukrainian border, but it was not clear if the rocket was fired by Russia or by Ukraine’s air defence systems; the latter was thought to be responsible for an explosion that killed two villagers in eastern Poland last month.
Earlier on Monday, Russian state media said three people were killed and six injured and when a fuel tanker blew up at a Russian air base near the city of Ryazan, and two were hurt in another explosion at the Engels-2 air base outside the Volga river city of Saratov.
“I want to assure you that no emergencies occurred in residential areas of the city. There is no cause for concern. No civilian infrastructure was damaged,” said Saratov regional governor Roman Busargin, adding that “information about incidents at military facilities is being checked by the law-enforcement agencies”.
A security camera in Saratov region captured what appeared to be the roar of something flying overhead shortly before the flash of a large explosion in the distance, followed by the sound of the blast.
By Monday evening, Russia’s defence ministry had not released any information about either explosion but Russian military bloggers – many of whom have close ties to the armed forces – suggested that Ukraine had attacked the bases with some sort of drone.
Saratov and Ryazan are respectively some 700km and 500km from the frontline in Ukraine, however, and nothing in Kyiv’s current arsenal is known to have such a range, leading some military commentators to suspect that attack drones could have been launched from inside Russian territory.
The Kremlin also did not comment on reports in some Russian media that two nuclear-capable Tu-95 “Bear” bombers were damaged in the attack on Engels-2.
Moscow has blamed Ukraine for several attacks on targets in Kremlin-controlled territory, including Russian power stations near the two countries’ border and the only bridge linking Russia with the Crimean peninsula that it illegally annexed from Kyiv in 2014.