Russia attacked Ukraine with several waves of missiles on Saturday morning, the Ukrainian military said, putting the entire country under an air raid alert and sending people rushing for shelter as bangs were heard in several cities.
The attack, which started around 5 a.m. local time and lasted about three hours, involved cruise and hypersonic missiles directed at cities including Kyiv, the capital, and Lviv, near the border with Poland. It seemed to follow Russia’s recent strategy for large-scale air assaults: waves of different types of aerial weapons launched almost simultaneously from multiple locations and aimed at various targets.
The Ukrainian Air Force said that Russian fighter jets had launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea, to the southeast of Ukraine, and hypersonic missiles from a region near Moscow, north of Ukraine. Local Ukrainian media reported explosions — which could have been caused by Ukrainian air defenses — in cities such as Dnipro in the southeast and Kropyvnytskyi in the center.
The scale of the attack and level of destruction remained unclear by 10 a.m. It appeared to be part of an air campaign that Russia began in late December, targeting industrial and military infrastructure, and repeatedly hitting civilian areas in the process.
Saturday’s attack was the fourth large-scale nationwide assault against Ukraine in about two weeks. In the previous attack, on Monday, Ukraine managed to intercept only about a third of the missiles launched against its territory. Military analysts say that was a sign that Kyiv is running short of the surface-to-air missiles required to shoot down incoming Russian missiles.
“We lack modern air defense systems badly,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine acknowledged during a trip to Lithuania on Wednesday.
Ukrainian officials said in the fall that Russia had stockpiled more than 800 high-precision missiles in preparation for huge attacks designed to wear down Ukrainian defenses.
In the three previous large air assaults against Ukraine, Russia fired a total of more than 270 missiles, including several of its hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, one of the most sophisticated weapons in Russia’s arsenal. The volume consumed Ukraine’s air defenses, leaving it more vulnerable to future attacks.
“Ukraine has expended a significant stock of missiles on these three attacks,” Yurii Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force said on Tuesday on national television. “Therefore, there is a shortage of antiaircraft guided missiles, and no one hides it.”
The lack of air defenses means Ukraine has to divide resources between the front line and cities far from the fighting, leaving some places less well defended than others.
Ukraine, lacking the capacity to produce air defense systems domestically, is dependent on its Western allies for supplies to protect its skies. On a visit to the Baltic States on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr. Zelensky called on the United States and the European Union to release long-awaited aid packages that have been blocked by political infighting.
Air defense systems, he said, are “what we need the most.”