June 18, 2024

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 30 people were killed, and more than 160 were wounded, according to the Ukrainian government, 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, which began in February 2022.

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.

Thanks to its powerful air defense systems, Ukraine has often been able to shoot down most, if not all, Russian weapons targeting cities in recent months. But on Friday the Ukrainian military said it had shot down only 114 missiles and drones out of a total of 158.

President Biden said in a statement that Friday’s attack — which he called the “largest aerial assault on Ukraine since this war began” — showed that after nearly two years of relentless fighting and huge numbers of casualties on both sides, President Vladimir Putin’s objectives in the war remain the same.

“He seeks to obliterate Ukraine and subjugate its people,” the president said. “He must be stopped.”

Oleksandr Musiienko, the head of the Kyiv-based Center for Military and Legal Studies, said that Russia’s complex barrage of weapons including hypersonic, cruise and air defense missiles on Friday was intended to overwhelm and confuse Ukrainian air defenses. “They’re changing the style of their attacks,” he said in an interview.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a statement, “Today, Russia was fighting with almost everything it has in its arsenal.”

A Russian missile also traveled through a Polish border area near Ukraine for three minutes on Friday, the latest in a series of violations of NATO airspace by Russia, Poland’s military said. But unlike at least three Russian drones that crashed in September in Romania — which, like Poland, is a NATO member — the rocket did not hit anything on the ground and caused no widespread alarm.

Speaking after an emergency meeting of Poland’s National Security Bureau, Gen. Wieslaw Kukula, the chief of the armed forces general staff, told reporters that the rocket had flown about 25 miles into Polish territory and then left without causing damage. Although no one was injured, the noise frightened residents and set off a search by hundreds of police officers for possible debris in a rural area near Sosnowa-Debowa, a Polish village about 60 miles northwest of Lviv, one of the Ukrainian cities hit in Russia’s attack on Friday.

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 stockpiling high-precision missiles to pound cities 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, firefighters worked to extinguish a blaze 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 nine people had died and that eight others were 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 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 declined to pass a new $50 billion security package for Ukraine unless the law also imposes new restrictions on migrants trying to cross the southern U.S. border, and negotiations are continuing. Washington said on Wednesday that it was releasing the last Congress-approved package of military aid currently available to Kyiv.

Mr. Biden said on Friday that “unless Congress takes urgent action in the new year, we will not be able to continue sending the weapons and vital air defense systems Ukraine needs to protect its people.”

Ukraine’s supply of surface-to-air missiles — key ordnance needed to down incoming Russian missiles — is now running short, forcing Ukrainian troops to juggle resources between the front line and cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Lviv.

Reacting to Friday’s attack, Grant Shapps, the British defense minister, said Britain would send “hundreds of air defense missiles” to replenish Ukraine’s stocks.

The attack struck six cities, as well as other areas across Ukraine. In the southern port city of Odesa, drone debris crashed into residential buildings, killing at least four, 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.

Since starting its full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russia has fired at least 7,400 missiles at Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian Army, an average of about 11 per day. The attacks have been so frequent that many Ukrainians now go about their lives during air-raid alerts or resume their activities shortly after hearing faraway blasts.

In Lviv, where missile strikes have been rare, the distant thud of explosions prompted residents to stop their morning commutes on Friday and stare toward the horizon before hurrying away. Emergency service sirens echoed through the city.

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.”

Andrew Higgins contributed reporting from Warsaw, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Lviv, Ukraine.