KYIV, Ukraine — Russia's defense ministry said a barrage of airstrikes on Ukraine's capital destroyed tanks donated by the West and other armor in an attack on Sunday that shattered five weeks of eerie calm in Kyiv, as President Vladimir Putin warned the West about supplying long-range rocket systems to Ukraine.
Putin said that Moscow would hit targets “we haven't yet struck” if it went ahead with such deliveries. It wasn’t immediately clear if Putin was referring to new targets within or outside Ukraine’s borders.
Russian forces pounded railway facilities and other infrastructure early Sunday in the capital, Kyiv. Ukraine's nuclear plant operator, Energoatom, said one cruise missile buzzed the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear plant, about 220 miles to the south, on its way to the capital — citing the dangers of such a near miss.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine that the Russian airstrikes had destroyed tanks.
Kyiv hadn’t faced any such strikes since the April 28 visit of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. The early morning attack triggered air raid alarms and showed that Russia still had the capability and willingness to hit at Ukraine’s heart since abandoning its wider offensive across the country to instead focus its efforts in the east.
The strikes appeared aimed at thwarting the resupplying of Ukrainian fighters, a rising concern in Moscow.
In a posting on the Telegram app, the Russian Defense Ministry said high-precision, long-range air-launched missiles were used. It said the strikes destroyed on the outskirts of Kyiv destroyed T-72 tanks supplied by Eastern European countries and other armored vehicles located in buildings of a car-repair business.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has led to untold tens of thousands of civilian and troop deaths, driven millions from their homes, sparked vast sanctions against Putin's government and allies, and strangled exports of critical wheat and other grains from Ukraine through Black Sea ports — limiting access to bread and other products in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
In a television interview on Sunday, Putin lashed out at Western deliveries of weapons to Ukraine, saying they aim to prolong the conflict.
“All this fuss around additional deliveries of weapons, in my opinion, has only one goal: To drag out the armed conflict as much as possible,” Putin said, alluding to U.S. plans to supply multiple launch rocket systems to Kyiv. He insisted such supplies were unlikely to change much for the Ukrainian government, which he said was merely making up for losses of rockets of similar range that they already had.
If Kyiv gets longer-range rockets, he added, Moscow will “draw appropriate conclusions and use our means of destruction, which we have plenty of, in order to strike at those objects that we have not yet struck.”
The missiles hit Kyiv’s Darnytski and Dniprovski districts, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging app, punctuating the Kremlin’s recently reduced goal of seizing the entire Donbas region in the east. Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years in the Donbas and established self-proclaimed republics.
In recent days, Russian forces have focused on capturing the city of Sievierodonetsk.
A billowing pillar of smoke filled the air with an acrid odor in Kyiv's eastern Darnystki district, and the charred, blackened wreckage of a warehouse-type structure was smoldering. Police near the site told an Associated Press reporter that military authorities had banned the taking of images. Soldiers also blocked off a road in a nearby area leading toward a large railway yard.
The sites struck included facilities for the state rail company, Ukrzaliznytsia, said Serhiy Leshchenko, an adviser in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, on Telegram.
Energoatom said a Russian cruise missile came dangerously close to the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant at 5:30 a.m., seemingly tearing toward Kyiv. It said the missile “flew critically low” and that Russian targeters “still do not understand that even the smallest fragment of a missile that can hit a working power unit can cause a nuclear catastrophe and radiation leak.”
Russian strikes have repeatedly targeted railway facilities, seemingly aimed at slowing the provision of weapons to Ukrainian forces on the front lines. The cruise missiles appeared to have been launched from a Tu-95 bomber flying over the Caspian Sea, the Air Force Command said on Facebook. It said air defense units shot down one missile.
Elsewhere, Russian forces continued their push to take ground in eastern Ukraine, with missile and airstrikes carried out on cities and villages of the Luhansk region, with the war now past the 100-day mark.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on Telegram that “airstrikes by Russian Ka-52 helicopters were carried out in the areas of Girske and Myrna Dolyna, by Su-25 aircraft - on Ustynivka,” while Lysychansk was hit by a missile from the Tochka-U complex.
A total of 13 houses were damaged in Girske, and five in Lysychansk. Another airstrike was reported in the eastern city of Kramatorsk by its mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko. No one was killed in the attack, he said, but two of the city’s enterprises sustained “significant damage.”
On Sunday morning, Ukraine’s General Staff accused Russian forces of using phosphorus munitions in the village of Cherkaski Tyshky in the Kharkiv region. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.
The update also confirmed strikes on Kyiv, which occurred in the early hours of Sunday. It wasn’t immediately clear from the statement which infrastructure facilities in Kyiv were hit.
The General Staff said Russian forces continue assault operations in Sievierodonetsk, one of two key cities left to be captured in the Luhansk region of the Donbas. The Russians control the eastern part of the city, the update said, and are focusing on trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in the area and “blocking off main logistical routes.”
The U.K. military said in its daily intelligence update that Ukrainian counterattacks in Sieverodonetsk were “likely blunting the operational momentum Russian forces previously gained through concentrating combat units and firepower.” Russian forces previously had been making a string of advances in the city, but Ukrainian fighters have pushed back in recent days.
The statement also said Russia’s military was partly relying on reserve forces of the Luhansk region.
“These troops are poorly equipped and trained, and lack heavy equipment in comparison to regular Russian units,” the intelligence update said, adding that “this approach likely indicates a desire to limit casualties suffered by regular Russian forces.”
Far from the battlefield, Ukraine's national soccer players are hoping to secure a World Cup spot when the team takes on Wales later Sunday in Cardiff.
On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was heading to Serbia for talks with President Aleksandar Vucic early this week, followed by a visit to Turkey on Tuesday, where the Russian envoy is expected to discuss Ukraine with his Turkish counterpart.
Turkey has been trying to work with U.N. and the warring countries to help clear the way for Ukrainian grain to be exported to Turkish ports, though no deal on the issue appeared imminent.
A Ukrainian presidential adviser urged European nations to respond with “more sanctions, more weapons” to Sunday's missile attacks.
Mykhailo Podolyak referenced remarks Friday by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said Putin had made a “historic error” by invading Ukraine, but that world powers shouldn’t “humiliate Russia" so that a diplomatic exit could be found when the fighting stops.
“While someone asks not to humiliate, the Kremlin resorts to new insidious attacks,” Podolyak tweeted. “Each of such terrorist attacks must face a tough response from European capitals: more sanctions, more weapons.”
Ukrainian officials have denounced the remark, and have criticized France and some other European countries for continuing to speak to Putin and talking about diplomatic solutions instead of working to push Russia out of Ukraine militarily.