Russia shelled Ukrainian towns across a long stretch of the frontline from north to south, Ukrainian officials said on Friday, a day after Moscow fired dozens of missiles in its latest barrage against critical infrastructure.
Air attack sirens blared overnight into Friday in the capital Kyiv, and Reuters heard several explosions and the sound of anti-aircraft fire south of the city as Russian forces fired 16 Iranian-made Shahed drones, the officials said.
The Ukrainian military said all the drones had been destroyed. Seven had targeted Kyiv, where an administrative building was damaged, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
In an evening report on Friday, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russian forces had tried to advance near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the focal points of their slow-moving campaign to take all of Donetsk region in the east.
Russian forces fired on several towns and villages, including Bakhmut, Kudryumivka just to the south, nearby Soledar and also the key town of Kostyantynivka, west of Bakhmut.
Russian forces also fired on Avdiivka, the key nearby town of Maryinka as well as Nevelske, the report on Facebook said. Russian forces shelled settlements further west in Donetsk region, including the town of Vuhledar.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were holding their positions in the eastern Donbas region and making small advances in some areas.
“On the whole, we are holding our positions,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on Friday. “There are also some areas of the front where we are advancing a bit.”
Russian forces shelled several towns near Kupiansk, in the northeast Kharkiv region recaptured by Ukraine in September, the General Staff report said, as well as settlements in the Luhansk region, where Ukrainian forces hope to advance after the gains of recent weeks.
Areas of Zaporizhzhia region, to the south, also came under Russian shelling, including the contested town of Hulyaipole. There was also shelling in and around Ukrainian-held Nikopol, on the opposite side of the Kakhovka reservoir from the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
On the southern front, there was renewed Russian shelling of infrastructure in the city of Kherson – abandoned by Russian forces last month – and Kachkarivka, further north on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said earlier it had carried out a “massive strike” on energy and military industrial targets to disrupt Ukraine’s ability to repair equipment and move troops. Zelenskiy said the attacks were on energy infrastructure and most were repelled.
Since October, Russia has been launching near weekly mass missile and drone strikes against civil infrastructure across Ukraine, leaving millions of people with no heat or power in the dead of winter. Russia says its aim is to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight. Kyiv says the attacks are intended to harm civilians.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield reports.
PUTIN INVITES ‘DEAR FRIEND’ XI
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a video conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the most powerful world leader to have stopped short of condemning Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking to the Chinese leader for eight minutes in remarks broadcast on Russian state television, Putin said he expected a state visit to Moscow from his “dear friend” Xi in the spring to “demonstrate to the world the closeness of Russian-Chinese relations”.
Putin said he aimed to deepen military cooperation between the two countries, whose relations were growing in importance as a stabilising factor.
Xi responded for just two minutes, saying China was ready to increase strategic cooperation with Russia against the backdrop of what he called a “difficult” situation in the world at large.
Belarus, a close Russian ally that has so far held back from joining the war, summoned Ukraine’s ambassador to complain about what it said was a Ukrainian air defence missile that flew into Belarus air space on Thursday.
“Kyiv is striving to provoke a regional conflict by any means,” Alexander Volfovich, secretary of Belarus’s security council, told the Russian state-owned outlet Sputnik Belarus.
Ukraine’s defence ministry suggested the episode was a Russian provocation but reserved the right to protect its own skies.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on NATO member states to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
“It is in all our security interests to make sure Ukraine prevails and Putin does not win,” Stoltenberg told German news agency DPA in an interview published on Friday.
“We know that most wars end at the negotiating table – probably this war too – but we know that what Ukraine can achieve in these negotiations depends inextricably on the military situation.”
The United States last week announced nearly $2 billion in additional military aid, including the Patriot Air Defence System, which offers protection against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles.
Russia invaded Ukraine in what Putin calls a “special military operation” against what he says are threats to Russia’s security. Ukraine and its Western allies call it an imperialist-style war of conquest.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in cities laid to waste by Russian forces. Tens of thousands of troops have died on both sides.