- Russian bombardments leave Ukrainians in a series of blackouts.
- Ukraine says a new Russian ground offensive has begun in the country’s east.
- Russian advances have been reported in Bakhmut and Vuhledar.
- Biden plans to visit Poland ahead of the full-scale invasion anniversary.
Kyiv: Russian missiles hit power facilities across Ukraine, where President Volodymyr Zelensky returned from a tour of Western capitals and Ukrainian officials said a long-awaited Russian offensive was underway in the east.
Ukraine’s air force said 61 of 71 Russian missiles had been shot down on Friday. But Energy Minister German Galushchenko said Russia had hit power facilities in six regions with missiles and drones, causing blackouts across most of Ukraine.
People gather in a subway station being used as a bomb shelter during a Russian rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine.Credit:AP
In Washington, the White House said President Joe Biden would travel to Poland from February 20-22 to show support for Kyiv ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion and make clear additional security assistance and aid will be coming from the United States.
“The President will make it very clear that the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” said John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
International Monetary Fund staff will meet with Ukrainian officials in Warsaw next week, a source familiar with the plans said on Friday, as Ukraine presses for a multi-billion dollar borrowing program to cover its funding needs given Russia’s war.
The latest Russian attacks came as Zelensky ended a tour of European allies where he was enthusiastically received but secured no public promises of the fighter jets he was asking for.
A boy and a woman play chess as other people watch in a subway station being used as a bomb shelter during a Russian rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine.Credit:AP
“London, Paris, Brussels – everywhere I spoke these past few days about how to strengthen our soldiers. There are very important understandings and we received good signals,” he said in his nightly video address.
“This concerns long-range missiles and tanks and the next level of our cooperation – fighter aircraft.”
Russia has repeatedly attacked civilian infrastructure far from the front lines, leaving millions of Ukrainians without power, heat or water for days at a time in the middle of winter.
The barrages have often followed Ukrainian diplomatic or battlefield advances.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 10 Russian missiles had been shot down over the capital after sirens blared during the morning rush hour and weary civilians took shelter.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Ukraine was without 44 per cent of nuclear generation and 75 per cent of thermal power capacity.
“This is a deliberate targeting of infrastructure that keeps Ukrainians alive in winter,” US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said. Russia denies targeting civilians and says facilities it attacks support Kyiv’s war effort.
Ukraine has been bracing for a new Russian offensive, believing that after months of reverses President Vladimir Putin wants to tout a battlefield success before the anniversary of his February 24 invasion. Ukrainian governors in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk said that thrust had begun.
Putin will give his delayed annual showcase address to parliament on February 21, the date last year when he recognised as independent the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk that were controlled by Russian-backed separatists, a prelude to invading.
The complete capture of those provinces, among four Russia subsequently claimed to have annexed, would let Putin assert that one of his main priorities had been achieved.
Moscow’s main recent focus has been Bakhmut, a small city with a pre-war population of around 70,000 who have mostly fled.
After months of static artillery battles both sides call the “meat grinder”, Russian forces have begun to encircle the city. Their troops include the Wagner private army that has recruited tens of thousands of convicts with a promise of pardons.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said Wagner forces appeared to have advanced 2 to 3 kilometres around the north of Bakhmut since Tuesday – a rapid push in a battle where front lines have barely moved for months.
It said they were now threatening the main western access road to Bakhmut although a Ukrainian military analyst said supplies were still getting through.
While Wagner has bolstered numbers with prisoners, Russia’s regular army is now able to deploy many of the 300,000 or more men enlisted in a forced mobilisation late last year.
Britain also said Russian forces had made some advances near Vuhledar, a Ukrainian-held bastion that has been a linchpin between the southern and eastern fronts, but the limited Russian gains there had most likely come at a high cost in inexperienced units, including at least 30 armoured vehicles abandoned in one failed assault.
Ukrainian positions in Vuhledar have held since the war started and this week’s assault has been branded as a costly fiasco by some pro-war Russian military bloggers. Grey Zone, a semi-official Wagner channel on Telegram, said “a disaster is unfolding around Vuhledar, and it is unfolding again and again”.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
On Friday, Moldova accused Russia of firing a missile through its airspace and summoned Moscow’s ambassador.
Ukraine plans its own major military counteroffensive in the coming months to reclaim more of the nearly one fifth of Ukrainian territory that Russia occupies.
But it appears likely to wait until it has received at least some of the new weapons, including hundreds of battle tanks and armoured vehicles, promised lately by the West.
Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger said Slovakia could start talks on delivering MIG-29 fighter jets now Kyiv has officially asked for them.
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