Russia launched airstrikes on Kyiv for the first time in five weeks on Sunday, claiming it had destroyed western-supplied tanks – while the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, warned more targets would be struck if weapons deliveries continued.
Several explosions were heard around the eastern Kyiv suburbs of Darnytskyi and Dniprovskyi early on Sunday morning, wounding one person. The strikes represented a change of tack on the part of the invading forces.
Russia’s ministry of defence said the strikes had destroyed T-72 tanks that had been provided to Ukraine by European countries that were being stored in the buildings of a car repair business, although the claim could not immediately be verified.
Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said “one victim was hospitalised” in the incident. Sergei Leshchenko, a member of the Ukrainian railway company’s supervisory board, added that its facilities had been struck.
They were the first bombing raids on any part of the capital since the end of April and appear to represent an attempt to strike supply lines from Kyiv to the east, where both sides are embroiled an intense battle for control of Donbas.
Perhaps signalling the new approach, Putin told Rossiya state television that Russia would hit fresh targets in Ukraine if the US delivered the longer-range rockets that it had promised to Kyiv last week.
If such missiles were supplied, “we will strike at those targets which we have not yet been hitting”, said Putin, who is believed to be closely involved in military decision-making. The Russian leader did not specify what would be struck, although logistics points would be amongst the most logical targets.
Russia has been irritated by the US decision to supply Ukraine with Himars truck-mounted multiple-launch rocket systems, with missiles that have a range of about 20 to 40 miles, greater than anything in Kyiv’s armoury.
“All this fuss around additional deliveries of weapons, in my opinion, has only one goal: to drag out the armed conflict as much as possible,” Putin said in his TV interview.
Ukraine and the west believe the rockets could help Kyiv prevent Russian forces massing behind the frontlines for future attacks, but Putin argued it would not bring on any significant change to the military balance.
“We understand that this supply [of advance rocket systems] from the United States and some other countries is meant to make up for the losses of this military equipment,” Putin said. “This is nothing new. It doesn’t change anything in essence.”
Ukraine’s nuclear energy company Energoatom also warned that a Russian cruise missile had come dangerously close to the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant, in the south of the country, at about 5.30am, apparently heading for Kyiv.
It said the missile “flew critically low” over the site and that Russian forces “still do not understand that even the smallest fragment of a missile that can hit a working power unit can cause a nuclear catastrophe and radiation leak”.
The last time Kyiv was hit was on 28 April, when a Russian missile killed a producer for the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Since then Moscow has ignored the capital as it tries to push Ukraine out of Donbas.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said that Ukrainian forces had counterattacked in Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, “likely blunting the operational momentum Russian forces previously gained” – but offered no assessment whether the effort was pushing the invaders back.
On Saturday, Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk province, said his country’s forces had regained about 20% of the Donbas city, which had been under days of sustained attack by concentrated Russian shelling and airstrikes.
Haidai repeated that claim on Sunday, adding that eight Russians had been taken prisoner and that the occupiers had “lost a huge number of personnel”. A humanitarian headquarters in neighbouring Lysychansk had been struck with 30 shells overnight, the governor said.
Ukrainian forces were “successfully slowing down Russian operations” in Donbas and were making “effective local counterattacks in Sievierodonetsk”, said the Institute for the Study of War, a US thinktank, overnight.
The research group, which closely monitors the fighting, said that Russia “may still be able to capture Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk” and that it appeared that “Ukrainian defences remain strong in this pivotal theatre”.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Russia was relying on “poorly equipped and trained” separatist forces from Luhansk to conduct the clearance of the city, a tactic it said had been previously employed by Moscow’s forces in Syria. “This approach likely indicates a desire to limit casualties suffered by regular Russian forces,” it added.
One Ukrainian presidential adviser urged European nations to respond with “more sanctions, more weapons” to the missile attacks – and appeared to criticise the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who had said in an interview on Friday that Russia must not be humiliated in Ukraine so that a diplomatic solution could eventually be found.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the President’s Office, tweeted: “While someone asks not to humiliate Russia, the Kremlin resorts to new insidious attacks. Today’s missile strikes at Kyiv have only one goal – kill as many Ukrainians as possible.”