The Ukrainian Air Force said Monday that it shot down more than 60 missiles from a major Russian barrage, while Moscow accused Kyiv of carrying out multiple drone strikes that damaged sensitive military sites deep inside Russia.
Ukrainian officials did not respond to the Russian allegations, which were tied to explosions that reportedly killed three Russian servicemen in a development that quickly escalated the nearly 10-month-old war.
The exchanges came on a day when Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to draw attention away from his army’s struggles by driving a Mercedes across the heavily symbolic bridge connecting Russia to Ukraine‘s Crimean Peninsula that Russian forces annexed in 2014.
The bridge, which Mr. Putin personally opened in 2018, was badly damaged in an Oct. 8 truck bombing that the Kremlin blamed on Ukrainian forces. The bridge was recently repaired, but the humiliating strike on one of Mr. Putin‘s signature projects is said to have triggered the Kremlin’s escalation against civilian and infrastructure targets in Ukraine for the past three months.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed Monday it had shot down Ukrainian drones that attacked two Russian air bases in the Saratov and Ryazan regions early Monday in strikes that allegedly also wounded four Russian servicemen. If confirmed, the operation would be the most daring and far-reaching carried out by Ukrainian forces since the invasion began in February.
The allegations from Moscow came as Russian forces launched what Ukrainian officials described as a fresh and “massive missile attack” across Ukraine, pounding homes and buildings in towns and cities across Ukraine, where multiple civilian deaths were reported Monday.
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While the Russian onslaught knocked out electrical power and water supplies in several cities, including in the Black Sea port of Odesa, Ukraine’s air force claimed that it had succeeded in shooting down more than 60 of the 70 missiles fired by Russian forces.
Monday’s missile strikes came as Russian news outlets were reporting that there had been two unexplained explosions reported at the Russian military bases that house nuclear-capable bomber planes.
The reported explosions took place at installations hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border and involved bases that the Russian military has used for launching attacks against Kyiv.
Two Russian Tu-95 long-range strategic nuclear bombers were damaged by a drone that fell on the runway at the Engels airfield in western Russia’s Saratov region, according to The Moscow Times, which cited a local news channel report relying on unnamed sources.
Engels airfield serves as a base for Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers and is located roughly 300 miles from the Ukrainian border, The Moscow Times reported.
The paper noted that satellite images published last week showed around two dozen Tu-95s and Tu-160s parked at Engels, which media outlets said were part of Russia’s fleet carrying out sorties across the border.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, praised his military forces and civilian technicians for responding to Monday’s onslaught of Russian missile strikes. Ukrainian officials say the strikes meant to demoralize the population as winter sets in have only served to unify the country more.
“Air defense shot down most of the missiles,” he said on social media. “Power engineers have already started to restore electricity. Our people never give up.”
Ukraine’s air force said early indications showed Russian forces fired 38 cruise missiles from carriers in the Caspian Sea and the southern Russian region of Rostov. Another 22 Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from its Black Sea fleet, and long-range bombers, fighter jets and guided missiles were also involved, it said.
“In total, more than 60 invaders’ missiles were shot down!” Ukraine’s air force said in a social media post.
Ukraine’s electricity provider, Ukrenergo, lashed out at Russia over “the eighth massive missile attack by a terrorist country,” saying its facilities had been hit, triggering blackouts. It urged residents to stay in shelters as its crews tried to repair the damage.
In Kyiv, scores of people quickly filled the central Zoloti Vorota metro station after the warnings.
The scare in the Ukrainian capital came a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Mr. Putin of “trying to weaponize winter” to make Ukrainian civilians suffer.
Russian military failures on the battlefield in Ukraine have forced Mr. Putin to engage in a strategy aimed at trying to cripple the Ukrainian energy grid as the coldest months of winter ensue, Mr. Blinken said.
Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, the secretary of state said Mr. Putin has responded to recent overtures for peace negotiations — including from Mr. Zelenskyy — by escalating Russia’s campaign against Ukrainian civilians.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.