KYIV, Dec 30 (Reuters) – Russia attacked Ukraine with 16 Iranian-made Shahed drones overnight, Ukrainian officials said on Friday, a day after Moscow fired dozens of missiles in its latest barrage against critical infrastructure.
A Reuters witness 20 km (12 miles) south of Kyiv heard several explosions and the sound of anti-aircraft fire. By dawn, the attack appeared to be over and residents crept outside under peaceful skies after a relentless day and night of bombardment.
The Ukrainian military said all the drones had been destroyed. Seven had targeted Kyiv, where an administrative building was damaged, the capital’s mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
Russia launched a total of 85 missile strikes, 35 air strikes, and 63 strikes from multiple rocket launch systems in the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its daily briefing on the war.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had carried out a “massive strike” on Ukraine’s energy and military-industrial infrastructure using high-precision weapons, Interfax reported.
It said the strikes had disrupted the production and repair of military equipment and the movement of reserve troops; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the attacks were on energy infrastructure and most were repelled.
The areas where loss of power was “especially difficult” included the capital Kyiv, Odesa and Kherson in the south and surrounding regions, and around Lviv near the western border with Poland, Zelenskiy said.
“But this is nothing compared with what could have happened if it were not for our heroic anti-aircraft gunners and air defence,” Zelenskiy said.
Ukrainian grid operator Ukrenergo said the deficit in Ukraine’s energy system was at the same level as before Thursday’s attacks.
“The consequences of the damage had much less impact on the operation of the power system than the enemy expected,” it said, while adding that the situation “remains difficult” in southern and eastern regions.
Since October, Russia has been launching near weekly mass missile and drone strikes against civil infrastructure across Ukraine, leaving millions of people with no heat or power as winter sets in. Russia says its aim is to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight; Kyiv says the attacks have no military purpose and are intended to harm civilians, a war crime.
Kyiv says Iran is supplying Moscow with drones for its air attacks. Tehran denies this.
The Ukrainian military said Moscow’s forces also shelled 20 settlements around the bombed out town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where the fiercest fighting is being waged, and more than 25 settlements in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, said it was extremely concerned by what it said was an Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that had flown into the air space of Moscow’s close ally, Belarus, on Thursday before being downed.
Ukraine’s defence ministry suggested the episode was a Russian provocation but reserved the right to protect its own skies and said it was ready to carry out an “objective investigation” into the incident.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield reports.
PUTIN INVITES ‘DEAR FRIEND’ XI
In Russia President Vladimir Putin held a video conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the most powerful world leader to have stopped short of condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking to the Chinese leader for eight minutes in remarks broadcast on Russian state television, Putin said he expected a state visit to Moscow from his “dear friend” Xi in the coming spring, to “demonstrate to the world the closeness of Russian-Chinese relations”.
Putin said he aimed to deepen military cooperation between the two countries, whose relations were growing in importance as a stabilising factor.
Xi responded for just two minutes, saying China was ready to increase strategic cooperation with Russia against the backdrop of what he called a “difficult” situation in the world at large.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on NATO member states to supply more weapons to Ukraine, according to an interview published on Friday.
“I call on allies to do more. It is in all our security interests to make sure Ukraine prevails and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin does not win,” Stoltenberg told German news agency DPA.
“We know that most wars end at the negotiating table – probably this war too – but we know that what Ukraine can achieve in these negotiations depends inextricably on the military situation,” he said.
The United States last week announced nearly $2 billion in additional military aid, including the Patriot Air Defense System, which offers protection against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles.
Britain said on Friday it has given Ukraine more than 1,000 metal detectors and 100 kits to deactivate bombs and to help clear minefields. Defence minister Ben Wallace said on Thursday Britain would allocate 2.3 billion pounds ($2.8 billion) to Ukraine in military aid in 2023, matching the amount it provided this year.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what Putin calls a “special military operation” against what he says are threats to Russia’s security. Ukraine and its Western allies call it an imperialist-style war of conquest.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in cities laid to waste by Russian forces. Tens of thousands of troops have died on both sides.
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(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Grant McCool, Michael Perry and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Simon Cameron-Moore and Philippa Fletcher)