Air raid sirens wailed nationwide, while booms were heard by The Independent around Kyiv, where the head of the city administration said that 15 cruise missiles were shot down. People rushed into metro stations, underground car parks and basements as the warning of incoming missiles sounded. It is something that the residents of the city have grown used to, with families huddling together or workers still trying to use their laptops as they wait out the onslaught.
Air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said as many as six Tu-95 warplanes had taken off from the Arctic region of Murmansk in northern Russia and launched a number of long-range missiles. Across the country, the volley included 55 missiles, of which 47 were intercepted, according to the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. That is in addition to 24 self-exploding drones sent overnight before the morning assault, all shot down.
Ukrainian officials said they believed the onslaught was Moscow’s furious response to announcements from Germany and the US that they would supply Ukraine with M1 Abrams and German-built Leopard tanks, significantly bolstering the Ukrainian ranks.
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The Kremlin has previously launched waves of strikes deep into the country in apparent response to Ukrainian successes on the battlefield, pounding energy infrastructure and living millions without light, heat or water.
Kyiv mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said one person was killed during the attacks, the city’s first such death since New Year’s Eve. Two others were injured. He also said that explosions were heard in Kyiv’s Dniprovskyi district, on the east side of the river that divides the city.
The regional prosecutor’s office in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia province said three people were killed and seven injured in a strike on an energy facility.
In addition to the dead across the country, 11 were wounded in the drone and missile strikes, which spanned 11 regions and also damaged 35 buildings, a State Emergency Service spokesperson said.
In Odesa, the Black Sea port designated a “World Heritage in Danger” site on Wednesday by the UN cultural agency, Russian missiles damaged energy facilities, authorities said, just as France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna was arriving.
“What we saw today, new strikes on civilian Ukrainian infrastructure is not waging war, it’s waging war crimes,” Ms Colonna said.
The minister was due to meet her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, to discuss humanitarian and military aid, including whether Paris might join its Nato allies in supplying Ukraine with tanks – its own Leclerc model. Although, Ms Colonna said that a decision on tanks had yet to be made.
On Wednesday, the US and Germany announced plans to arm Ukraine with dozens of modern tanks to give its troops the firepower to break Russian defence lines and reclaim occupied territory in the south and east.
It could be a game changer for the Ukrainians who are struggling to hold back an advance in the war-ravaged eastern region known as Donbas – containing the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk that Moscow covets – where Russian forces have punched through different lines, taking gateway towns such as the mining outpost Soledar.
Germany is set to send an initial company of 14 tanks from its stocks, which it said could be operational in three or four months, but that it would try to speed up that process. It said it would approve shipments by European states with the aim of equipping two battalions – around 100 tanks – in the future.
Despite the US being initially wary about sending tanks to Ukraine, US president Joe Biden announced his decision to supply 31 M1 Abrams tanks just hours later after Berlin’s promise.
President Biden said the tanks pose “no offensive threat” to Russia and that they were needed to help the Ukrainians “improve their ability to manoeuvre in open terrain”.
The Kremlin said on Thursday that it saw the promised delivery of Western tanks as evidence of growing “direct involvement” by the United States and Europe in the war. Since invading Ukraine in February last year, Russia has shifted its publicly stated goals from “de-Nazifying” and “de-militarising” its neighbour to confronting what it claims is an aggressive and expansionist US-led Nato alliance.
The UK government said it would start training Ukrainian troops next week on how to use and fix Challenger 2 tanks, which should arrive in Ukraine by the end of March.
German defence minister Boris Pistorius said Ukrainian crews will start their training in Germany in the coming days on German-made Marders, which are infantry fighting vehicles, while training on the heavier Leopard 2 tanks would start “a little later”.
“In any case, the aim with the Leopards is to have the first company [of tanks] in Ukraine by the end of March, beginning of April,” he added. “I can’t say the precise day.”
Nato’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told BBC Radio 4 that sending tanks to Ukraine will make a “big difference” to the country’s ability to win the war.
“This will help them repel Russian offensives, to help them to be able to retake territory, liberate more Ukrainian lands and to win this war to prevail as a sovereign independent nation. We will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he added.
Kyiv has repeatedly called for 300 tanks to help it win the war, but Mr Stoltenberg would not comment explicitly on that request.
As for the missile strikes, the waves of attacks on energy infrastructure – which Ukrainian officials have likened to terrorism and say are the largest assault on energy facilities in modern history – have sparked concerns of a humanitarian catastrophe as temperatures have dipped well below freezing.
The Ukrainian government, alongside international aid organisation and the railways service have constructed “heat centres” at key points like railway stations, where citizens can keep warm, charge their phones, get food and hot drinks.
Western analysts say the attacks on Ukraine’s cities are more an attempt to break morale than a strategic campaign.