Russian missile strikes have injured 34 civilians, and apparently damaged railway infrastructure and an ammunition depot in south-eastern Ukraine, hours before an explosion inside Russia derailed a freight train.
The attacks on both sides of the border on Monday apparently aimed to disrupt military logistics before a significant Ukrainian counteroffensive against occupying Russian troops, expected to start shortly in the south or the east.
The Russian strike in the Ukrainian city of Pavlohrad was part of the second wave of missile attacks in just three days; on Friday 23 people were killed when a missile hit an apartment block in central Uman city, and a woman and her daughter died in Dnipro.
With Kyiv’s allies saying that equipment and newly trained troops promised for the next Ukrainian campaign are in place, Moscow has revived its winter tactics of attempting to orchestrate bombing campaigns far behind Ukrainian frontlines.
It launched 18 cruise missiles in the early hours of Monday morning, although 15 were intercepted by air defences, including the ones aimed at Kyiv. Support from western allies has helped Ukraine improve protection for its cities and the main military sites.
At Pavlohrad, video posted on social media showed a missile strike had caused a significant blaze and secondary detonations.
Among the buildings damaged or destroyed were an industrial zone, 19 apartment buildings and 25 homes, according to Mykola Lukashuk, the head of the Dnipro region council. Two women were seriously injured.
Russian officials and the Tass state news agency claimed Moscow had hit an ammunition depot and railway infrastructure, hampering military preparations.
“The objectives of the strike were achieved,” the defence ministry said in a statement. “The work of enterprises making ammunition, weapons and military equipment for Ukrainian troops has been disrupted,” it said.
Ukrainian sources said one location hit was a plant that produced solid fuel for Soviet-era rocket motors and had a number of expired solid fuel motors awaiting decommissioning, although that claim could not be immediately verified.
The size of the fire in Pavlohrad suggests Russia may have hit an important arms depot and comes after Ukraine’s recent attack on an oil storage facility in Sevastopol, Crimea.
“Around 2.30am (1130 GMT), the Russian invaders attacked Ukraine from strategic aviation planes,” a post on the Telegram channel of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, read.
Air defence systems were called into action to shield the Kyiv region from Russian missiles, officials said. Ukrainian media also reported blasts in the Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.
Senior Ukrainian officials have suggested in recent days the counteroffensive may be imminent. It will be a critical test of whether Russia can be dislodged from land it seized in 2014 and last year – nearly one fifth of Ukrainian territory.
“If in a global sense, in a high-percentage mode, we are ready,” Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said during a press conference in Kyiv on Friday.
“Then the question [about when to launch] is for the general staff, for the command. As soon as there is God’s will, the weather, and the decision of the commanders – we will do it.”
On Friday, 25 people died in Russian missile strikes, including 23 in an apartment block in the city of Uman.
Almost all of the 23 victims of the attack died when two missiles slammed into an apartment building. Ihor Klymenko, the Ukrainian interior minister, said six children were among the dead.
On Monday Ukraine was burying some of the victims of Friday’s attack on a civilian apartment block, Mykhayl Shulha, six, cried and hugged relatives next to the coffin of his 11-year-old sister, Sofia, during Sunday’s funeral, while others paid respects to a 17-year-old boy.
As mourners held candles, crossed themselves and sang, the priest waved a vessel containing incense over the coffins. He said the deaths had hit the entire community.
Meanwhile an explosion in the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine, derailed a freight train on Monday, the local governor said in a social media post.
“An unidentified explosive device went off, as a result of which a locomotive of a freight train derailed,” Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram, adding that there were no casualties reported.
Local authorities said the train was transporting “fuel and building materials”. Images shared on social media showed several tank carriages laying on their side and smoke rising into the air.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack that caused the derailment less than 40 miles from the border with Ukraine.
There has been an increase in rail incidents in Russia in the 14 months since Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The authorities in Russia have arrested at least 66 Russians on suspicion of railway sabotage since last autumn, according to the independent Russian website Mediazona.
Separately, the governor of Russia’s Leningrad region near St Petersburg said a power line had been blown up overnight and an explosive device found near a second line.