By SUSIE BLANN
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces unleashed a barrage of missile and drone strikes against targets in eastern and southern Ukraine early Friday, as a Moscow offensive that has been brewing for days appeared to pick up pace ahead of the one-year anniversary of its invasion.
The Kremlin’s forces focused their bombardments on Ukraine’s industrial east, especially the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, the Ukrainian military said. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.
The barrage struck critical infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast, and hit energy infrastructure in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast. Air raid sirens went off across much of the country.
Zaporizhzhia City Council Secretary Anatolii Kurtiev said the city had been hit 17 times in one hour, which he said made it the most intense period of attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24 2022.
The bombardments could be an effort by Russia to soften up Ukraine’s defenses ahead of a ground assault, which Kyiv believes Moscow is planning.
The onslaught lent a sense of urgency to Ukraine’s pleas for more Western military support. The need prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to make a rare — and daring — two-day trip abroad this week to press allies to grant Kyiv more aid.
Due to the threat of a missile attack, emergency power outages were enacted in Kyiv city, the Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, according to private energy operator DTEK.
The head of Kyiv City Administration, Serhii Popko, said that “there is a great threat of a missile attack” as Tu-95 strategic bombers are in the air, which can carry cruise missiles on board. The head of Kryvyi Rih city Administration confirmed that Russia had launched missiles and urged people to proceed to the shelters.
In Kharkiv, authorities were still trying to establish information on victims and the scale of the destruction, with Mayor Ihor Terekhov saying there could be disruptions to heating and the electricity and water supply.
Military analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin is hoping that Europe’s support for Ukraine will wane, as Russia is believed to be preparing a new offensive.
Fighting in Ukraine intensified Thursday. Kyiv’s military intelligence agency said Russian forces have launched an offensive in the partially occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with the aim of grabbing full control of the entire industrial region, known as the Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces there since 2014.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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