KYIV — Ukrainians preparing to celebrate the New Year as best they could were hit by another wave of Russian missile attacks on Saturday. The majority of targets struck appeared to be civilian structures, including a now-uninhabitable hotel. The attack wounded at least 28 across the country, and killed one, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
According to Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s commander in chief, 20 cruise missiles were fired from ground-based launchers and Russian Tu-95MS “Bear” strategic bombers flying above the Caspian Sea. Twelve of the missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses; six alone above the skies of Kyiv, Zaluzhnyi said. However, an unknown number struck inside Ukraine. The total is as yet unknown because an “unspecified number” of the munitions malfunctioned and crashed somewhere inside Russia, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.
Yahoo News visited impact sites earlier today in the Ukrainian capital. In one case, a missile scored a near direct hit on the Alfavito Hotel in the central Pecherskiy District; in another, a parking lot in the middle of a civilian housing estate.
Whole sections of the Alfavito building collapsed, and rescue workers combed through the rubble, searching for survivors. Casualties appeared to be light, because the hotel was largely unoccupied. Windows in the nearby National Palace of Arts, a large, Soviet-era concert hall, were blown out in the blast.
The second missile strike site Yahoo News visited was in the Solomianskyi District, in the western part of the city. The bomb struck the center courtyard of a housing project, causing heavy damage to all the buildings in the development. Cars in the parking lot were peppered with shrapnel, and some Ukrainian civilians had already begun the process of patching up their battered homes. Others were packing their bags, as the damage was too severe, or the trauma too great, for a feasible night in their homes.
“My dogs were terrified by the noise, but now they’re fine,” Anna, a Kyiv resident close to the blasts, told Yahoo News. “I’ll still be drinking champagne later.”
Ukrainian explosive technicians were in the process of recovering remnants of the missile from the large crater, and volunteer groups distributed aid — a darkly familiar routine now for all involved. An elderly man died in the strike, the one confirmed fatality in today’s attack, according to the mayor.
The first explosions in Kyiv were heard at around 2 p.m. local time, and the targets, so close to the city center, seemed designed to sow both terror and physical damage just hours before the holiday. This year’s festivities in Ukraine are likely to be limited by curfew, air raid sirens and more potential strikes. Despite the destruction on Saturday, the barrage of 20 missiles was a fraction of the 84 munitions Russia fired into Ukraine on Oct. 10, at the start of its campaign to destroy critical civilian infrastructure as temperatures plunged.
In Kyiv, many residents again took shelter in the city’s cavernous Metro system, which was originally designed to double as a fallout shelter by its Soviet architects. Residents who remained above ground counted at least eight booming explosions in the center of the city. The majority were evidently successful interceptions by Ukraine’s air defenses, including newly supplied advanced Western systems such as the German IRIS-T and the American/Norwegian NASAMS.
The city suffered blackouts as the power was cut off as a precautionary measure to prevent further damage to the grid. For all that, there was a palpable sense that things could have been far worse. “Ukrainian energy workers will do everything possible and impossible to ensure that Ukrainians have electricity on New Year's Eve,” said Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko.
In Kyiv, power returned to the majority of the city’s districts a few hours after the strikes, with water and the communal heating systems also working as normal. “The capital's life support system is working normally,” Klitschko said in a statement published on his Telegram channel.