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Russia rains missiles across Ukraine ahead of May 9 Victory Day holiday

2023-05-08T08:38:17Z

Russia carried out drone, missile and air strikes on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities through the night, escalating attacks in the run-up to its cherished Victory Day holiday that celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Ukraine said its air defences destroyed all 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones Russia had launched. Kyiv’s mayor said at least five people were wounded in the capital amid damage to a fuel depot, cars, buildings and infrastructure. A food warehouse was set ablaze by a missile in the Black Sea city of Odesa, where officials reported three people wounded.

It was one of the biggest volleys of missiles and drones yet in a renewed Russian air campaign unleashed 10 days ago after a lull since early March.

Kyiv said Moscow was also making a final push to try to capture the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut, to deliver President Vladimir Putin what would be his only prize for a costly Russian winter offensive, in time for the holiday.

The military said 16 rockets had hit the Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa regions in the last 24 hours, in addition to 61 strikes and 52 rocket salvos on Ukrainian positions and populated areas.

“Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded civilians, high-rise buildings, private homes and other civilian infrastructure were damaged,” the military said.

Moscow is preparing for Tuesday’s Victory Day parade, the most important day in the calendar for Russia under Putin, who uses the 1945 Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany to justify his invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine, which as part of the then-Soviet Union endured higher per capita casualties than Russia in battling the Nazis, and as ground zero of the Holocaust, proclaimed May 8 to be Victory Day, rather than May 9 – a clear bid to separate its observance of the day from that of Russia.

“Recalling the heroism of millions of Ukrainians in that war against Nazism, we see the same heroism in the actions of our soldiers today,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, evil has returned. Just as evil rushed into our towns and villages then, so it does now. As it killed our people then, so it does now,” he said. “And all the old evil that modern Russia is bringing back will be defeated, just as Nazism was defeated.”

Russia has cancelled or curtailed some of the huge military parades that normally accompany Victory Day. Western countries say this is in part out of security concerns and in part because Moscow has lost so much military hardware in a largely failed winter offensive in Ukraine that has seen the most intense ground combat in Europe since World War Two.

“The Russians still hope to capture the city by May 9. Our task is to prevent this,” Ukrainian ground forces commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said after visiting the front line near Bakhmut, Russia’s main target.

Ukraine, which drove Russian forces back from the ramparts of the capital and recovered substantial territory last year, has kept its troops on the defensive for the past six months, but is preparing a massive counteroffensive in coming weeks.

Russia’s costly winter campaign captured almost no ground, apart from around Bakhmut where its forces have been led by Wagner, a private army that recruited thousands of convicts from prison.

Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin announced last week that he would pull out of Bakhmut on May 10, denouncing Russian commanders for failing to give his fighters enough ammunition. He appeared to reverse himself on Sunday, saying he had now been promised the weapons he needs.

In Kyiv, three people were injured in blasts in the Solomyanskyi district and two when drone wreckage fell in the Sviatoshyn district, both west of the capital’s centre, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram.

Kyiv’s military administration said drone wreckage crashed onto a runway at Zhuliany airport, one of the capital’s two passenger airports, drawing emergency services there, although there was no fire.

Drone debris also seemed to have hit a two-storey building in the central district of Shevchenkivskyi, causing damage, it added.

Numerous explosions could be heard in Kyiv throughout the night.

Flames completely engulfed a large structure identified as a food warehouse in pictures posted on Telegram by Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesperson for the Odesa military administration, after what he said was a Russian attack.

After air raid alerts blared for hours over roughly two-thirds of Ukraine, media said explosions sounded in the southern region of Kherson and southeastern Zaporizhzhia.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in Zaporizhzhia, said Russian forces hit a warehouse and Ukrainian troops’ position in the small city of Orikhiv. Reuters was unable to independently verify the report.

Separately, Russian forces shelled eight spots in Sumy in northeastern Ukraine on Sunday, the regional military administration said in a Facebook post.

Strikes have also intensified in the past two weeks on Russian-held targets, especially in Crimea. Ukraine does not confirm any role in such attacks but says destroying enemy infrastructure is part of its preparation for its long-awaited ground assault.

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