Ukrainian drones struck two air bases deep inside Russian territory, the Kremlin said Monday, shortly before Russian forces unleashed a massive missile barrage in Ukraine that struck homes and buildings and killed civilians.
The unprecedented attack in Russia threatened a major escalation of the nine-month war because it hit an airfield housing bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use all available means to defend his land, a remark many have interpreted to include nuclear weapons.
Russia has been launching almost weekly bombardments of Ukraine in retaliation for another bold attack — the Oct. 8 truck bombing of a vital bridge linking its mainland to the Crimean Peninsula.
On Monday, Putin tried to show his country could bounce back from that embarrassment by driving a car across the partially repaired bridge. Putin personally opened the 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge in 2018 as part of an expensive effort to solidify his claim on Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
In Monday’s retaliatory barrage, missiles knocked out basic services in several Ukrainian regions in Moscow’s strategy to inflict more pain just as winter approaches. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said four people were killed in Monday’s barrage.
Ukraine’s air force claimed it shot down more than 60 of the 70 missiles, and Zelenskyy again showed defiance, praising workers who immediately tried to restore power.
“Every downed Russian missile is concrete proof that terror can be defeated,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.
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Ukraine said early indications showed Russia fired 38 cruise missiles from carriers in the Caspian Sea and from the southern Rostov region. In addition, 22 Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and long-range bombers, fighter jets and guided missiles were also involved, it said.
Electricity provider Ukrenergo said its facilities had been hit, triggering some blackouts, although the prime minister said later that power facilities were damaged in only three areas, not as widespread as in previous attacks.
In the capital of Kyiv, scores of people quickly filled the central Zoloti Vorota metro station after air raid warnings. There were no immediate signs the city or surrounding region had been hit.
Ukrainian media reported explosions south of Kyiv, in Cherkasy, Krivyi Rih and Odesa. Officials said water, electricity and central heating were cut to many parts of Odesa.
“The enemy is again attacking the territory of Ukraine with missiles!” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, wrote on Telegram.
In neighboring Moldova, the Interior Ministry said on its Facebook page that border patrol officers had found a rocket in an orchard near the northern city of Briceni, near the border with Ukraine. A bomb squad went to the scene, but it was not immediately clear when the rocket fell or who fired it.