KYIV, Ukraine — Russia unleashed another missile bombardment on cities across Ukraine before dawn on Thursday, killing a 79-year-old woman and hitting critical infrastructure, although the national utility said the attacks appeared to have a minimal impact on Ukraine’s power grid.
The attack came hours after Ukraine’s Air Force spotted several Russian balloons floating toward Kyiv from the north. The small rubber inflatable aerostats, as they are known by the military, had mostly been shot out of the sky by the time Russian ships and bombers fired dozens of cruise missiles at central and western Ukraine.
The exact significance of the interplay between the missiles and the balloons was not immediately clear. But as Moscow’s forces struggled to mount a renewed ground offensive, the missile strikes combined with the use of balloons showed that Russia continues to seek ways to terrorize Ukraine from the skies and outwit its air defenses.
“The occupiers somewhat changed their tactics,” Andriy Yermak, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a statement. “Russian forces conduct active surveillance first by using fake targets.” Russia was silent on the matter.
The Russian strikes hit critical infrastructure in central and western Ukraine, with officials reporting a volley of more than 30 air- and sea-based cruise missiles and an unknown number of other “strategic aviation aircraft.” Mr. Zelensky, speaking to the Norwegian Parliament on Thursday, said that about half of the missiles had breached Ukraine’s missile defense system.
A missile struck an industrial complex in the city of Pavlohrad, in central Ukraine, at about 3 am, killing the 79-year-old woman and injuring seven, the regional military administration said. Seven homes were damaged.
Lviv, a city in the west where thousands of displaced people have fled to relative safety, was struck, officials said. The military administrator for the Lviv region, Maksym Kozytsky, said on the Telegram messaging app that no one was hurt and that firefighters battled a fire into the morning before it was extinguished, without providing additional details.
He warned residents in the region to remain in shelters, saying there was a “real threat.”
For months, Russia has been directing waves of missiles at critical infrastructure and other targets across Ukraine, aiming to crush the nation’s morale. As Ukraine’s Western allies sent more sophisticated air defense systems to help Kyiv protect itself, Moscow turned to using Iranian-made attack drones. The Ukrainians have also adjusted, learning to shoot the drones out of the sky without depleting more expensive antimissile systems.
The balloons appear to be Russia’s latest adaptation. Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force, said that a Russian balloon in the sky above Dnipro on Sunday was the first time such a device had been detected in the yearlong war.
“The enemy tries to troll us, to distract our attention, and to make us use the resources of air defense,” he said in an interview on Thursday. Every time Ukraine spots a balloon, he said, it must decide if shooting it down poses a risk to those on the ground and is worth the expenditure of ammunition.
The problem is that the balloons can be used for multiple purposes, he said. They can carry radar reflectors meant to throw off missile defense systems, surveillance equipment to spot Ukrainian positions, even small bombs. They can also be used to try to expose the location of Ukrainian air defense systems, military analysts said.
The appearance of balloons comes as top government officials are stepping up warnings that Russia is preparing another large-scale missile attack to coincide with the anniversary of its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24.
“They are preparing and will try to make another attempt to mount a massive attack,” Oleksii Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s national defense council, said on national television. “We have to be calm about this, and moreover, we are ready for it.”
The Russian missiles in Thursday’s attack were fired from the Black and Caspian Seas, and from Kursk in Russia and Melitopol in southern Ukraine, officials said.
Mr. Ihnat said that Russia used a variety of missiles to attack Ukraine overnight, including huge Soviet missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.
“We don’t have the resources to shoot them down, and that’s why such missiles reach their targets,” he said. “Several critical infrastructure objects were hit,” he said, including an oil processing factory in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine.
Mr. Ihnat said the strikes underscored the need to increase the capacity of the country’s air defense to enable it to shoot down the high-speed and ballistic missiles.
Anna Lukinova and Victoria Kim contributed reporting.
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