Russia launches missile strikes across Ukraine as fighting intensifies in east

Wagner boss Prigozhin says his forces may be able to take Bakhmut by March or April

A damaged building in the frontline town of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, February 15. Reuters
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Russia launched a barrage of missile strikes on Ukraine on Thursday as Russian forces renewed their assault in the east of the country.

Ukrainian authorities said one of the strikes killed a 79-year-old woman and injured at least seven other people.

Russian forces used a variety of missile types, firing 36 in all in a two-hour overnight burst, Ukraine's Air Force said. Half of them were shot down, a lower rate than normal.

The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said Russian forces “changed their tactics” for the strike, using what he described as “active reconnaissance” and “false targets.” He gave no details.

One of the overnight strikes caused casualties and destroyed homes in the eastern city of Pavlohrad, the regional governor said.

The strike destroyed seven homes, damaged 30 others and caused a fire at an industrial plant that emergency services put out within hours, the governor added.

Battles continue in the Donbas region, with the head of the mercenary outfit Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, saying that Russian forces could capture the embattled city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine "in March or in April".

In messages distributed online overnight, he lamented the slow progress on the ground as he criticised Russia's "monstrous military bureaucracy".

He also said that Ukraine's new weaponry from the West was making their advance more difficult.

“Although it is hard to estimate. They [Ukrainian forces] are now getting new types of weapons. [It’s] 100 per cent that we will be destroying these [German-made] Leopard [tanks], 100 per cent that we will figure out how to burn them down. But it is still an important factor,” Mr Prigozhin said.

Mr Prigozhin said through his representatives earlier this week that the “toughest battles” were under way north of Bakhmut.

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His soldiers were storming the area “house by house, square metre by square metre” while the Ukrainian army intensified artillery fire and sent up to 500 new fighters to the embattled city every day, he said.

Ukrainian military analysts said Russian troops had launched several unsuccessful attacks on villages to the north and south of Bakhmut during the past day.

"Things are very difficult for our forces there as Russian troops are being sent into the area en masse," analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

Bakhmut's capture would give Russia a stepping stone to advance on two bigger cities, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, farther west in Donetsk, which would revive Moscow's momentum before the February 24 anniversary of the start of the war.

Trying to counter that, Nato alliance nations are increasing production of artillery munitions in efforts to keep pace with Ukraine's rapid use of them.

Ukraine has received billions of dollars in military aid, particularly from the United States, which has committed more than $27.4 billion since the conflict began.

Senior US officials have advised Ukraine to hold off with a major offensive until the latest supply of US weaponry is in place and training has been provided.

"We have to ensure that this spring it is truly felt that Ukraine is moving towards victory," President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an evening address.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is scheduled to meet Mr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Thursday in the first such visit since the Russian invasion last year, the Foreign Ministry said.

While Israel has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has limited its assistance to Kyiv to humanitarian aid and protective gear.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power in December, has spoken about reviewing Israeli policy on the Ukraine-Russia war but stopped short of pledging any direct supply of arms to Kyiv.

The Israelis want to maintain a co-ordination hotline with Russia, set up in 2015, over their military strikes on suspected Iranian targets in Syria, where Moscow has a garrison. They are also mindful of the welfare of Russia's big Jewish community.

Mr Cohen was expected to attend the reopening of the Israeli embassy, which has returned to full activity, the ministry said.

Updated: February 16, 2023, 9:13 AM