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Ukraine launches retaliatory missile and drone strikes on Russia in wake of huge aerial assault

Ukraine launches retaliatory missile and drone strikes on Russia in wake of huge aerial assault

Ukraine has carried out a series of retaliatory attacks on Russian territory over the last 24 hours, using missiles, drones and shelling.

Russian officials said that 20 people, including two children, had been killed in the border city of Belgorod, and claimed 111 more were injured. It came in the wake of an 18-hour aerial bombardment across Ukraine by Moscow that killed at least 39 people and injured around 160.

No official comment was immediately available from Kyiv, but the Ukrainian news outlet RBC-Ukraine quoted sources as saying Ukrainian forces had struck military targets in Belgorod in response to the massive Russian bombardment on Friday.

Other Ukrainian media – citing intelligence sources – said more than 70 drones were used in a series of attacks on Russia and only military targets were attacked. They added that a group of drones successfully hit an electronic factory in the Bryansk region used to make Russian military equipment such as long-range missiles and anti-aircraft systems.

The Ukrainian source told the BBC that it was strictly military infrastructure being targeted, and blamed the “incompetent work of Russian air defence” for civilian casualties.

Images of Belgorod on social media showed burning cars and plumes of black smoke rising among damaged buildings as air-raid sirens sounded. One strike hit close to a public ice rink in the very heart of the city.

“This crime will not go unpunished,” Russia's Defence Ministry said in a statement on social media. Explosions were later reported in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which is also close to the border with Russia.

The Kremlin said Russian president Vladimir Putin had been briefed on the situation, and that the country’s health minister, Mikhail Murashko, was ordered to join a delegation of medical personnel and rescue workers travelling to Belgorod from Moscow. Russia requested a meeting of the UN Security Council on Saturday night over the deaths in Belgorod.

Earlier on Saturday, Moscow officials had reported shooting down 32 Ukrainian drones over the country’s Moscow, Bryansk, Oryol, and Kursk regions. There were also reports that cross-border shelling had killed two other people in Russia. A man died and four other people were injured when a missile struck a home in the Belgorod region late on Friday evening. A nine-year-old was killed in a separate incident in the Bryansk region.

Russian drone strikes against Ukraine continued on Saturday, with the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reporting that 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones had been shot down across the Kherson, Khmelnytskyi, and Mykolaiv regions. Shelling also killed a 43-year-old man in Stepnohirsk, a town in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region, the area's governor said on social media.

On Friday, Moscow’s forces had launched 122 missiles and dozens of drones across Ukraine, in an onslaught described by one Ukrainian air force official as the biggest aerial barrage of the war.

In the capital Kyiv, at least 16 people were killed – the largest civilian death toll in the city during nearly 22 months of the war, mayor Vitali Klitschko said. The city announced a day of mourning for the victims on Monday.

“Works to clear up the consequences of yesterday’s Russian attack are still underway. Almost 120 cities and villages, [and] hundreds of civilian objects have suffered,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said early on Saturday.

Western officials and analysts recently warned that Russia had limited its cruise missile strikes for months in an apparent effort to build up stockpiles for massive strikes during the winter, hoping to break the Ukrainians’ spirit.

Russia’s aerial attacks have also sparked concern for Ukraine’s neighbours. Poland’s defence forces said on Friday that an unknown object had entered the country’s airspace before vanishing off radars, and that all indications pointed to it being a Russian missile. On Saturday, Poland’s army ended a ground search after failing to find any parts of the suspected Russian rocket.

Fighting along the front line is largely bogged down by winter weather after a counteroffensive by Ukraine which has so far failed to make a significant breakthrough along the roughly 600-mile line of contact.

But losses are mounting. Russia will have sustained more than half a million personnel killed and wounded in its invasion of Ukraine by 2025 if casualties continue at the current rate, the UK believes.

The average daily number of the country’s troops injured or killed has risen by almost 300 per day over the course of 2023 compared to last year, according to the latest Ministry of Defence intelligence update.

The update said the increase “almost certainly” reflects the degradation of Russia’s forces and its transition to “a lower quality, high-quantity mass army since the ‘partial mobilisation’ of reservists in September 2022”.

It is likely to take Russia five to 10 years to rebuild a cohort of highly trained and experienced military units, it said.

Britain’s defence secretary, Grant Shapps, compared the scale of death and injury on the front line to the nine-year Soviet-Afghan war, when Russia sustained 70,000 casualties.

“In [Vladimir] Putin's pointless war, if casualties continue at the current rate through next year, by 2025 Russia will have sustained over half a million personnel killed & wounded over 3 years of war,” he wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report