By Rob Picheta, CNN
Russia inundated kyiv, Lviv and other major Ukrainian cities with what officials said was an unprecedented event. missile series on Thursday morning, intensifying its assault on the entire country as a sluggish ground war rages on in the east.
A total of 81 missiles were used in a “mass attack” against Ukrainian infrastructure, including six Kinzhal ballistic missiles bypassing kyiv’s air defenses, the Ukrainian military said.
“The attack is really on a large scale and for the first time it uses such different types of missiles. We see that this time up to six Kinzhal were used. This is an attack that I don’t remember seeing before,” Yurii Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force Command, said on Ukrainian television on Thursday.
“So far, we have no capabilities to counter these weapons,” he added, referring to the Kinzhals, plus six X-22 air-launched cruise missiles that were also launched by Russian forces.
“It has been a difficult night,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday in a Facebook message.
“The enemy fired 81 missiles in an attempt to intimidate the Ukrainians again, going back to their miserable tactics. The occupants can only terrorize civilians. That’s all they can do. But it won’t help them. They will not avoid responsibility for everything they have done,” Zelensky said.
It listed 10 regions of Ukraine where airstrikes took place, including Dnipro, Odessa, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia, saying the strikes hit “critical infrastructure and residential buildings.”
“Unfortunately there are injuries and deaths. My condolences to the families,” she added.
Russia used the nuclear-capable Kinzhal missile, which it has described as a hypersonic weapon, on a few occasions in the first weeks of its invasion last year. But the powerful weapon, which Ukraine does not have the ability to shoot down, has rarely been seen above the country’s skies.
At least 11 people were killed and more than 20 wounded during the overnight attacks, according to preliminary information from regional authorities.
In kyiv, an airstrike alert lasted almost 7 hours overnight until Thursday and power cuts were implemented as a preventative, regional measure authorities said. In the community of Zolochiv, near Lviv, a fire broke out when fragments of a Russian missile were shot down, regional authorities said.
The fire destroyed three residential buildings and three cars. Debris was being cleared and rescuers were searching for additional victims Thursday morning.
Several infrastructure facilities and other buildings were hit in other parts of Ukraine.
Rare use of the Kinzhal missile
The use of such a wide and unpredictable variety of weaponry apparently marks a change in the Kremlin’s strategy.
The Kinzhal, an air-launched variant of the Iskander short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) that has also been used more frequently in Ukraine, was introduced by Putin in 2018 as a cornerstone of a modernized Russian arsenal.
Like virtually all missiles, it’s hypersonic, meaning it travels at least five times the speed of sound, but it’s also particularly difficult to detect because it can be launched from MiG-31 fighter jets, giving it greater range and the ability to attack from multiple directions.
“Russia likely developed the unique missile to more easily target critical European infrastructure… (its) speed, in combination with the missile’s erratic flight path and high maneuverability, could complicate interception.” according the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Russia’s use of the missile on Ukrainian targets last March was its first known use in combat, according to CSIS, and it was subsequently used again in May.
Eight Iranian-made Shahed drones were also used in Thursday’s attacks, authorities said.
The shelling came as most of the attention in Ukraine was fixed on Bakhmut, the eastern city that Russian ground forces have been storming for weeks and appear to be on the verge of capturing.
Ukrainian troops have maintained a determined defense of the city even as some military experts advocate a tactical withdrawal.
Zelensky said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that kyiv’s ongoing resistance in the city is “tactical,” warning that the Russians could advance on other key cities to the west if they capture Bakhmut.
“We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be an open path for the Russians after Bakhmut to other cities in Ukraine, in the direction of Donetsk,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an exclusive interview from Kiev. “That’s why our guys are standing there.”
The CNN Wire
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CNN’s Svitlana Vlasova and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.