Russia launched a series of missile attacks on Ukraine early Saturday, stepping up hostilities a day after Ukrainian troops withdrew from the city of Severodonetsk.
As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine entered its fifth month, regional governors reported airstrikes targeting military bases in the Lviv region of western Ukraine, in Zhytomyr west of Kyiv and Chernihiv in northwest of the capital.
Officials said some of the missiles were intercepted by air-to-ground defense systems. The claims of the Ukrainian and Russian militaries cannot be independently verified.
Initial reports did not indicate that there were many casualties, but Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser in the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said civilian targets had been hit.
Podolyak said in a tweet: “48 Russian cruise missiles. At night. In the whole of Ukraine. ”
He added: “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, to panic and scare people with the Z monsters.
The airstrikes came shortly before Ukrainian officials said most troops had withdrawn from Severodonetsk, the capital of the eastern Luhansk province, which was essentially destroyed by a Russian artillery attack. stronger positions.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had taken full control of Severodonetsk and several surrounding villages after a brutal battle that lasted weeks.
Nearby Lysychansk is the only remaining major city in the Luhansk region not yet occupied by Russia. Ukraine still controls several major western cities in the nearby Donetsk Oblast, to the west of Lysychansk.
After failing to capture Kyiv and other major cities to the north during the invasion, Moscow has recently focused more on efforts to capture the remote coastal areas to the east and south. It now controls 20% of Ukraine’s territory.
Throughout the conflict, Russia conducted missile strikes almost daily. According to Ukrainian officials, more than 1,400 were launched targeting military infrastructure and facilities as well as trying to prevent the shipment of heavy weapons from Kyiv’s Western supporters.
Earlier, Russia fired Iskander surface-to-surface missiles from Belarus, a Kremlin ally, and Ukrainian military intelligence said Saturday’s attacks were all fired from Belarusian territory. That includes 12 cruise missiles launched by Russian Tu-22M3 bombers from Minsk airspace, the first time this has happened according to Kyiv.
“Today’s missile attacks are all carried out overnight from the territory of Belarus. . . From the air and from the land,” said Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow will supply Belarus with Iskander-M tactical missiles that can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads.
On Saturday, Putin told his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko that Russia would send missiles, with a maximum range of up to 500km, “in the next few months”.
Lukashenko asked Putin to arm Belarus’ warplanes with nuclear weapons, which he said was necessary “to defend our homeland, from Brest to Vladivostok” from what he described as a threat. from NATO. Putin refused but proposed to upgrade the fleet of Soviet-made Su-25 fighters in Russia.
The Belarusian military leader has abandoned the geopolitical balancing act of recent years and ties to Putin, leaving him to use Belarus for air strikes and missiles during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
From the outset of the invasion, Belarus allowed Russian forces to advance into Kyiv from its territory but did not send its own forces in.
Budanov said Moscow is “once again provoking us to attack Belarus” to “create an excuse” for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to join the Russian invasion.
Budanov said Russia is also plotting terrorist attacks in Belarus.
Lukashenko “is trying to avoid this,” Budanov said, adding: “He understands how this will end for him.”