Russia has launched a huge wave of missile strikes on Ukrainian cities, including the capital, in one of the biggest attacks on the country since the start of the war.
Poland’s armed forces said an unknown airborne object, which they identified as a Russian missile, entered the country’s airspace from the direction of Ukraine for three minutes.
“Everything indicates that a Russian missile intruded in Poland’s airspace. It was monitored by us on radars and left the airspace,” said Poland’s defence chief, Gen Wiesław Kukuła.
Poland said the object penetrated about 24 miles (40km) into its airspace and left it after less than three minutes, adding that its radar and Nato radar both confirmed the object left Polish airspace.
In Ukraine, at least 18 civilians were killed and 132 injured in the strikes on residential buildings in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv and other cities in the west and south on Friday morning, while Ukrainian officials said a shopping centre and maternity hospital were hit in the central city of Dnipro.
In Odesa, three people were killed and a further 26 injured, including two children and a pregnant woman when three rockets hit residential buildings.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Russia launched approximately 110 missiles in the attack. “Today, Russia used nearly every type of weapon in its arsenal,” Zelenskiy said in a statement on his social media channels.
“A maternity ward, educational facilities, a shopping mall, multistorey residential buildings and private homes, a commercial storage [facility] and a parking lot [were hit] … We will surely respond to terrorist strikes. And we will continue to fight for the security of our entire country, every city, and every citizen. Russian terror must and will lose.”
Smoke rises after a missile strike in western Ukraine on Friday. Photograph: Artur Abramiv/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock
The Ukrainian air force said Russia used hypersonic, cruise and ballistic missiles, including missiles that were extremely hard to intercept.
The Ukrainian commander-in-chief, Valeriy Zaluzhny, said that of the 158 missiles and drones launched by Russia, 87 cruise missiles and 27 attack drones were intercepted. None of the 20 or so ballistic missiles appear to have been shot down.
Ukraine’s air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat on state television described the scale of the Russian attack as “massive”, adding: “We have never seen so many targets on our monitors at once.”
Mykola Oleschuk, the head of Ukraine’s air force, said Friday’s strikes were the biggest aerial barrage of the war so far.
The Ukrainian army said military facilities were also targeted.
Loud explosions were heard early on Friday morning in the northern city of Kharkiv, with bombs pounding the city bordering Russia for at least three hours. The number of casualties could rise, with people thought to be trapped under rubble.
In Kyiv, at least nine ambulances were seen lined up next to a busy market.
Anastasia Kostiuk, 51, and her daughter Vita, 33, were selling Christmas trees when they saw “a big white rocket with little wings flying over our heads”.
They told the Guardian they ran to take cover at the nearby metro station when they heard a powerful explosion. “The land shook, it felt like an earthquake,” Anastasia said. A piece of debris landed right in front of their stall.
On Thursday, Zelenskiy had thanked the US for releasing the last remaining package of weapons available for Ukraine under the existing authorisation, as uncertainty surrounds further aid to his war-stricken country. Congress this month failed to approve $50bn (£39bn) in fresh security aid for Ukraine as negotiators fell short of a deal, with Republicans demanding a domestic border crackdown.
Zelenskiy has said any change in policy from the US – Kyiv’s main backer – could have a strong impact on the course of the war.
After Friday’s attack, the Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak called on the west to provide further support. “We are doing everything to strengthen our air shield. But the world needs to see that we need more support and strength to stop this terror,” Yermak wrote on Telegram.
Posting a screenshot of her phone, which showed multiple air alert warnings, the US ambassador in Kyiv, Bridget Brink, wrote on X: “This is what Ukrainians see on their phones this morning: and as a result, millions of men, women, and children are in bomb shelters as Russia fires missiles across the country. Ukraine needs funding now to continue to fight for freedom from such horror in 2024.”
Hours after the attack on Friday, Britain announced it is was sending around 200 air defence missiles to Ukraine to help protect civilians and infrastructure, the country’s defence ministry said.
Western and Ukrainian officials have previously warned that Moscow was building up a large missile stockpile that it was planning to use this winter to target the country’s energy system.
“Russia has amassed a large missile stockpile ahead of winter, and we see new attempts to strike Ukraine’s power grid and energy infrastructure, trying to leave Ukraine in the dark and cold,” the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said last month. “We must not underestimate Russia. Russia’s economy is on a war footing,” he added.
Last year, millions of people were plunged into darkness when Russian strikes repeatedly pounded the power grid. On Friday, the Ukrainian energy ministry reported power outages in four regions after the air attack.
The Ukrainian defence minister cautioned that it was “clear” Russia had enough rockets left to repeat similar strikes in the near future.
Russia’s latest attacks came after Ukraine’s military destroyed a Russian warship stationed in the Crimean port city of Feodosia, prompting a rare acknowledgment from the Kremlin of a military loss.
Ukraine said its air force destroyed the Novocherkassk landing ship, with Zelenskiy quipping on social media that the vessel had joined “the Russian underwater Black Sea fleet”.
The latest strikes on Ukraine come amid conflicting media reports over Vladimir Putin’s plans to open ceasefire talks in Ukraine. Last week, the New York Times reported the Russian leader had been signalling through intermediaries that he was open to a ceasefire that froze the fighting along the current frontlines.
During a meeting last March with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, Putin reportedly vowed to continue the war with Ukraine “for [at least] five years”, according to sources at the outlet.
During his end-of-year speech, Putin told the audience “there will only be peace in Ukraine when we achieve our aims”, calling for the “denazification of Ukraine, its demilitarisation and neutral status”, appearing to take a hardline stance that demanded Ukraine’s unconditional surrender.
This rhetoric was backed on Wednesday by the country’s former president Dmitry Medvedev, who told state media that Russia’s ultimate war goal was to get rid of Zelenskiy, calling the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv “temporarily occupied” cities.
“It’s very easy to talk about Putin’s ‘peace signals’ from Washington, New York or Berlin,” wrote the prominent Ukrainian journalist, Kristina Berdynskykh, after Friday’s attack.
“It is very easy to say from Kharkiv, Kyiv or Dnipro that this is complete nonsense when there is a massive missile attack on Ukraine.”