The world continues to be on tenterhooks following reports that Russian forces have fired yet again dozens of missiles at Ukraine in a ferocious wave of strikes targeting energy infrastructure.
That, only a day after Germany and the United States pledged to send modern tanks to Kyiv.
Ukrainian civilians raced for cover with a barrage of missiles and drones, killing at least 11 people, after Moscow reacted with fury to the German and American announcements although Ukraine has said all drones and most missiles were shot down.
Ukraine’s president Volodymir Zelensky has hailed the tank pledges as “fist of freedom” following the invasion of his country in February last year by Russian troops.
Ukraine said it had shot down all 24 drones sent overnight by Russia, including 15 around the capital, and 47 of 55 Russian missiles — some fired from Tu-95 strategic bombers in the Russian Arctic.
Air raid alarms had sounded across Ukraine as people headed to work. In the capital, crowds took cover for a time in underground metro stations.
A 70-year-old woman who gave her name only as Valentyna said she managed to survive by scrambling out of her damaged house over glass splinters. “Everything was in rubble,” she said.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said electricity substations had been hit as Russia continued to target energy facilities.
The Kremlin said it saw the promised delivery of Western tanks as evidence of growing “direct involvement” of the United States and Europe in the 11-month-old war, a statement both countries deny.
Ukraine’s largest private energy producer had said it was conducting pre-emptive emergency shutdowns in Kyiv, the surrounding region and the regions of Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk.
In Odesa, the Black Sea port designated a “World Heritage in Danger” site on Wednesday by the UN cultural agency UNESCO, Russian missiles damaged energy facilities, according to authorities, just as French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was arriving.
Colonna was due to meet her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, to discuss humanitarian and military aid and potentially whether France might join its NATO allies in supplying Ukraine with battle tanks, in this case its own Leclerc model.
Both Moscow and Kyiv, which have so far relied on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, are expected to mount new ground offensives in spring.
Ukraine has been asking for hundreds of modern tanks in the hope of using them to break Russian defensive lines and recapture occupied territory in the south and east.
Zelensky has said the key now is speed and volumes. “Speed in training our forces, speed in supplying tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support,”
He added “We have to form such a ‘tank fist,’ such a ‘fist of freedom’.”
He has maintained a rat-a-tat of requests, saying he had spoken to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and asked for long-range missiles and aircraft.
Ukraine’s allies have already provided billions of dollars in military aid, including sophisticated US missile systems that have helped turn the tide of the war.
In the meanwhile, countries west and east of Ukraine have their eyes and ears on the war zone, which has triggered several crises that include rising cost of petrol.