Russia launched a barrage of missile attacks across Ukraine on Thursday, killing at least six people and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without heat and electricity.
It was the largest such attack on Ukraine in three weeks, with Ukrainian forces saying they shot down 34 of the 81 missiles that Russia fired, far less than the usual ratio, as well as four Iranian-made drones.
Air raid sirens blared through the night across a wide swath of Ukraine, including in western Ukraine, far from the main front battle lines in the eastern regions of the country. The governor of the Lviv region said five people were killed there when a missile hit a residential area.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region, officials said the Russian attacks killed one person and injured two others.
“The occupiers can only terrorize civilians,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on Telegram. “That's all they can do. But it won’t help them. They won’t avoid responsibility for everything they have done.”
The Russian defense ministry said the attacks were in retaliation for a recent assault on the Bryansk region of western Russia by what Moscow alleged were Ukrainian saboteurs. Ukraine has denied the claim and warned that Moscow could use the allegations to justify stepping up its own assaults.
Moscow said it hit military and industrial targets in Ukraine “as well as the energy facilities that supply them.” Nearly half of the households in the capital of Kyiv were left without heat as were many in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, where the regional governor said 15 Russian strikes hit the city.
About 150,000 households were left without power in Ukraine’s northwestern Zhytomyr region. In the southern port of Odesa, emergency blackouts occurred because of damaged power lines.
Among the weapons fired were six hypersonic Kinzhal cruise missiles, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said.
Nuclear power fears
Thursday’s attack also knocked out the power supply to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest. The plant’s operator, Energoatom, said diesel generators were being used to run the plant and that there was enough fuel available to continue for 10 days. The plant was later reconnected to the electrical grid.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi called for urgent action, noting the plant’s power supply had been cut for a sixth time since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago.
“I am astonished by the complacency — what are we doing to prevent this happening? We are the IAEA; we are meant to care about nuclear safety,” Grossi said. “Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue time after time then one day our luck will run out.”
Top U.S. intelligence officials, testifying before lawmakers Thursday, cautioned that the war between Russia and Ukraine is entering a critical period.
“The next four, five, six months are going to be crucial on the battlefield to Ukraine,” CIA Director Williams Burns told members of the House Intelligence Committee.
"Any prospect for a serious negotiation, which President [Vladimir] Putin I don't think is ready for today, is going to depend on progress on the battlefield,” Burns said. "Therefore, I think, analytically, what's important is to provide all the support that we possibly can, which is what the president and our Western allies are doing for the Ukrainians as they prepare for a significant offensive in the spring."
During testimony before the United States Senate on Wednesday, U.S. National Intelligence Director Avril Haines said Russia’s military has been so badly damaged that it is unlikely Russian forces will be able to make any significant territorial gains for the rest of the year.
But Haines also cautioned Ukraine forces have suffered casualties as well and have been forced to draw heavily on their reserves due to what she described as a grinding war of attrition.
'He has to come here'
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Wednesday invited the top U.S. House lawmaker to visit Kyiv to see “what’s happening here” in an interview broadcast on CNN.
"Mr. [Kevin] McCarthy, he has to come here to see how we work, what's happening here, what war caused us, which people are fighting now, who are fighting now. And then after that, make your assumptions," Zelenskyy told the news outlet through an interpreter.
Responding to CNN, House Speaker McCarthy said, “I don’t have to go to Ukraine or Kyiv" to understand it. He said he received information in briefings and other ways.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 of last year, the U.S. has sent nearly $100 billion in military, economic and relief aid to Ukraine. That aid was sent when the Democratic Party controlled both chambers in Congress.
The Republican Party took control of the U.S. House after the November midterm elections. Some Republicans have expressed opposition to sending additional arms and financial aid to Ukraine.
McCarthy has said he supports Ukraine, but that House Republicans will not provide "a blank check" for additional U.S. assistance to Kyiv without closer scrutiny of how it is being spent.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.