Russia targeted Ukrainian cities with more than 150 missiles and drones on Friday morning, in what Ukrainian officials said was one of the largest air assaults of the war. At least 18 people were killed, and more than 130 were wounded, according to the Ukrainian national police, and critical infrastructure was damaged.
“This is the biggest attack since the counting began,” Yurii Ihnat, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, said in a brief telephone interview, adding that the military did not track air assaults in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.
For several hours on Friday, missiles, drones and debris slammed into factories, hospitals and schools in cities across Ukraine, from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east, straining the country’s air defenses and sending people scrambling for shelter.
Although the level of destruction countrywide has yet to come into full focus, the scale of the Russian strikes appeared to have overwhelmed Ukraine’s air defenses. The Ukrainian military said that it had shot down 114 missiles and drones, out of a total of 158.
“Today, Russia was fighting with almost everything it has in its arsenal,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a statement, noting that Moscow had launched a complex barrage of weapons including hypersonic, cruise and air defense missiles.
Ukraine has been struggling to contain renewed Russian assaults all along the front line and is concerned about a possible shortfall in Western military assistance as the war stretches into another new year.
The Ukrainian authorities had warned for months that Russia was likely to pound Ukrainian cities and target their infrastructure when cold weather began to bite, in an echo of last year’s winter campaign against civilian targets and the country’s energy grid, which plunged many areas into cold and darkness. The country’s energy ministry said on Friday that power had been disrupted for residents in four Ukrainian regions.
Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top commander, said the attacks had also targeted critical industrial and military facilities. That was evident in Kyiv, the capital, where huge plumes of black smoke rose from several areas, cutting through the blue morning sky.
In the center of the city, the Artem factory, which the Ukrainian authorities say manufactures missiles and aircraft parts, was engulfed in columns of smoke. Inside the factory, firefighters were working to extinguish a blaze that was raging amid piles of smashed brick walls, with shards of glass cracking underneath their feet. Many were wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, worried that Russia would hit the site again, in a so-called double-tap attack.
Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said that three people had died and four others rescued from the rubble in a strike in the neighborhood where the factory is situated.
A few miles away, columns of thick black and white smoke billowed from a warehouse. Firefighters were also at work there, and intermittent loud bangs could be heard from inside.
Workers at the warehouse said they had seen a missile slamming into the building shortly before 8 a.m. Looking shellshocked, Volodymyr Maliukhnenko, a 53-year-old employee, said he had been starting his day shift when the assault occurred. He said that the blast had thrown him about five yards and that he had temporarily lost consciousness. As he spoke, employees around him were discussing what stock might be salvageable.
“Fortunately, everyone stayed alive,” a teary-eyed Anton Moiseinko, the warehouse manager, said as he reviewed the damage.
Ukraine has long been lobbying its Western allies for powerful air defense systems to repel Russian attacks. Kyiv received its first Patriot systems this year, and more of the sophisticated missile batteries have since been delivered, including one this month from Germany.
Yet Republican lawmakers in Congress have repeatedly declined to pass a new $50 billion security package for Ukraine, and the U.S. Defense Department said on Wednesday that it was releasing the last Congress-approved package of military aid currently available to Kyiv.
Ukraine’s supply of surface-to-air missiles — key ordnance needed to down incoming Russian missiles — is now running short. And with a front line more than 600 miles long, the anti-air defenses must be evenly distributed to protect Ukrainian troops from Russian attack helicopters and jets.
This has left Ukrainian forces in a difficult position as they juggle resources between the front line and cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Lviv.
Friday’s attack struck six cities, as well as other areas across Ukraine. In the southern port city of Odesa, drone debris started a fire in a residential building, killing at least two and injuring 15, according to Oleh Kiper, the region’s governor. In the central region of Dnipropetrovsk, six people were killed as missiles hit a shopping center and high-rise residential buildings, according to Serhii Lysak, the regional governor. He said that a maternity ward was also damaged, but that no casualties were reported.
In Lviv, where missile strikes have been rare, the distant thud of explosions prompted residents to stop their morning commutes and stare toward the horizon before hurrying away. Emergency service sirens echoed through the city.
“Maternity hospital, educational institutions, shopping center, high-rise buildings and private houses, commercial warehouse,” Mr. Zelensky said in a post on the Telegram messaging app, listing sites that had been hit. His post also included footage of the attack’s aftermath, including people stepping on heaps of rubble as they escaped a burning building.
Since starting its invasion in February 2022, Russia has fired at least 7,400 missiles at Ukraine, according the Ukrainian Army, an average of about 11 per day.
The attacks have been so frequent that many Ukrainians now go about their life during air-raid alerts or resume their activities shortly after hearing the distant thud of explosions in their cities. On Friday morning in Kyiv, people were shopping in a supermarket near the spot where a downed missile had crashed into the roof of an unfinished skyscraper.
“We’re used to attacks,” a woman who said she was an employee of the warehouse that was struck in Kyiv said, smoking a cigarette. Pausing to look at the columns of smoke rising from the warehouse, she added, “Well, not to this.”
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Lviv, Ukraine.