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Zelensky makes defiant visit to east Ukraine as more drones strike inside Russia

A girl draws in a dimly lit room.
Alexandra, 11, draws inside a dimly lit school building designated by the Ukrainian government as a service station providing power, food and heat.
(Andriy Andriyenko / Associated Press)
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Drones struck inside Russia’s border with Ukraine on Tuesday in the second day of attacks exposing the vulnerability of some of Moscow’s most important military sites, observers said.

Ukrainian officials did not formally confirm carrying out drone strikes inside Russia, and they have maintained ambiguity over previous high-profile attacks.

But Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia was likely to consider the attacks on Russian bases more than 300 miles from the border with Ukraine as “some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.”

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian authorities will “take the necessary measures” to enhance protection of key facilities. Russian bloggers who generally maintain contacts with officials in their country’s military criticized the lack of defensive measures.

A fire broke out at an airport in Russia’s southern Kursk region, which borders Ukraine, after a drone hit the facility, the region’s governor said Tuesday. In a second incident, an industrial plant 50 miles from the Ukrainian border was also targeted by drones, apparently missing a fuel depot at the site, Russian independent media reported.

“They will have less aviation equipment after being damaged due to these mysterious explosions,” said Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for Ukraine’s air force. “This is undoubtedly excellent news because if one or two aircraft fail, then in the future, some more aircraft may fail in some way. This reduces their capabilities.”

Moscow blamed Kyiv for unprecedented attacks on two air bases deep inside Russia on Monday. The attacks on the Engels base in the Saratov region on the Volga River and the Dyagilevo base in the Ryazan region in western Russia were some of the most brazen in the nation during the war.

In the aftermath, Russian troops carried out another wave of missile strikes on Ukraine, killing civilians, striking homes and compounding damage to power stations.

About half of households in the Kyiv region remained without electricity, the regional governor said Tuesday. Authorities in the southern Odesa region, where Monday’s strikes caused outages, said they had restored power to hospitals and some vital services.

In a new display of defiance from Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to an eastern city near the front line. To mark Ukraine’s Armed Forces Day, the president spoke in the Donetsk region and vowed to push Russian troops out of all of Ukraine’s territory.

Throughout the war, Moscow has been accused of seizing and deporting Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories to be raised there.

“Everyone sees your strength and your skill. ... I’m grateful to your parents. They raised real heroes,” Zelensky said in a video address to Ukrainian forces from the city of Slovyansk, a key Ukrainian stronghold in the east.

In Washington, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the United States has “neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia.” But he said the U.S. is determined — along with many other countries that back Kyiv — to make sure that the Ukrainians have “the equipment that they need to defend themselves, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry charged that the attack was launched with Soviet-made drones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine inherited some Soviet-designed Tu-141 Strizh drones, which entered service in the 1970s and have a range of more than 600 miles.

They were designed for reconnaissance, but can be fitted with a warhead that effectively turns them into cruise missiles. Unlike modern drones, the Strizh can stay in the air only for a limited amount of time and fly straight to a designated target. The outdated technology makes the drones easy to shoot down.

In Ukraine, a bleak winter lies ahead for combatants and civilians alike, as its army strives to maintain battlefield momentum against Russian forces.

A Russian pro-war blogger posting on a Telegram channel Monday hit out at the Russian military leadership, alleging that incompetence and lack of proper defenses at the air bases made the alleged Ukrainian drone strikes possible.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that three Russian servicemen were killed and four others wounded by debris and that two aircraft were slightly damaged in Monday’s attacks.

After Ukrainian forces retook control in November of the city of Kherson, which Russian forces had controlled for months, neither side has made significant advances. But Ukrainian officials have indicated that the country plans to pursue counteroffensives during the winter when frozen ground is conducive to moving heavy equipment. Kherson city is still being hit by Russian rocket attacks, but if Ukrainian forces establish firm control there, it could be a bridgehead for advancing toward Crimea.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov said the latest strikes by Ukraine “have raised questions about security of Russian military air bases.”

The Engels base hosts Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers that have been involved in strikes on Ukraine. Dyagilevo houses tanker aircraft used for midair refueling.

When peace returns to Ukraine, many thousands of its combatants will likely return from the battlefields bearing psychological scars.

In a daily intelligence update on the war in Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said the bombers would probably be dispersed to other airfields.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Peskov said that “the Ukrainian regime’s course for continuation of such terror attacks poses a threat.”

He reaffirmed that Russia sees no prospects for peace talks now, adding that “the Russian Federation must achieve its stated goals.”

Ukrainian rocket attacks killed six people in the city of Donetsk, about 60 miles south of where Zelensky spoke, according to Denis Pushilin, head of the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic separatists. He said one of those killed was a member of the DPR parliament, Maria Pirogova, 29.

Russia, meanwhile, maintained intense attacks on Ukrainian territory, shelling towns overnight near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and leaving more than 9,000 homes without running water, local Ukrainian officials said.

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The towns lie across the Dnieper River from the nuclear plant, which was seized by Russian forces in the early stages of the war. Russia and Ukraine have for months accused each other of shelling at and around the plant.

The head of Ukraine’s northern Sumy region said that Moscow launched more than 80 missile and heavy artillery attacks there.

Ihnat, the Ukrainian air force spokesman, said the country’s ability to shoot down incoming missiles is improving, noting that there had been no recent reports of Iranian-made attack drones being used on Ukrainian territory.


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