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Russia launches deadly wave of missile attacks on Ukraine cities

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Russian cruise missiles have killed at least 19 people in the central Ukrainian cities of Uman and Dnipro, days after Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, begged his allies for more air defence supplies.

The attacks were part of a wave of Russian missile and drone strikes in the early hours of Friday morning, the most intense aerial bombing of major Ukrainian cities in weeks.

In Uman, at least 17 people were killed including two children when a missile hit a high-rise building. The impact sheared off a column of apartments, reducing them to rubble at the base of the tower, and leaving nearby rooms on fire.

To the south, on the outskirts of the port city of Dnipro, a mother and her three-year-old daughter were killed in their home in a rural suburb.

Seven missiles targeted the city, Serhii Lysak, the head of the military administration for the Dnipro region told a news conference. Fragments of one of them, shot down by air defences, appeared to have fallen on the house, police told neighbours.

“It was loud enough to understand that someone was probably hurt,” said Oleksandr Kalinichenko, a neighbour who lives about 300 metres away.

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Most of Russia’s attacks were intercepted, with 21 out of 23 missiles shot down by the Ukrainian military. The missiles that got through were a grim reminder of why the country is so vulnerable when Moscow aims its weapons at civilian targets.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted: “Missile strikes killing innocent Ukrainians in their sleep, including a … child, is Russia’s response to all peace initiatives.”

Air raid alarms sounded across the country in the early hours of Friday, while explosions were heard in Kyiv, and southern Mykolaiv was targeted again.

Twenty-four hours earlier, another round of cruise missiles aimed at the port city had killed at least one person and ended nearly four months of relative calm there.

Ukraine strengthened air defences over the winter, with help from western allies, after a Russian bombing campaign against power stations and other civilian infrastructure tried to cut off heating and power to major cities.

However, leaked US military documents dated to February this year warned that by May the country risked running out of missiles and ammunition.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian officials pleaded with Nato allies for more supplies, the Financial Times reported, fearing large-scale Russian bombing campaigns could break through depleted systems.

The missiles launched on Friday were the first to target Kyiv in 50 days, although Iranian-made drones have tried to break the city’s air defences repeatedly in that time.

The wave of strikes comes as Moscow, and the world, wait for Kyiv to launch a spring counter-offensive against Russian forces.

The Ukrainian defence minister, Oleskii Reznikov, on Friday said it was close to beginning the assault. “As soon as there is God’s will, the weather and a decision by commanders, we will do it,” he told an online news briefing.

Ukraine was “to a high percentage ready”, he said, with new modern weapons to provide an “iron fist”.

On Thursday, Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said almost all the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine by western allies had been delivered, putting Ukraine in a “strong position” to recover further ground.

Last year brought a string of humiliating military defeats for the invading army, but Russia still occupies nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory, which Zelenskiy has vowed to retake.

Stoltenberg said the western allies had sent more than 1,550 armoured vehicles, 230 tanks and “vast amounts of ammunition” to Ukraine, Reuters reported. They have also trained and equipped about 30,000 troops, the equivalent of more than nine new brigades. “They will put Ukraine in a strong position to continue to retake occupied territory.” he said.

On Thursday, the Kremlin said it still needed to achieve the “aims” of its invasion, a day after China’s president, Xi Jinping, spoke to Zelenskiy over the phone for an hour.

Beijing, which has a close strategic partnership with Moscow, has drawn up a peace proposal for Ukraine, but there is no sign that either side is ready to stop fighting and come to the negotiating table.

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( With inputs from : www.theguardian.com )

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