Russia rained missiles on cities across Ukraine on Tuesday after its humiliating withdrawal from Kherson, even as signs grew that its retreating forces were pulling even further back from the Dnipro River in the south.
Air raid sirens blared and explosions rang out in nearly a dozen major cities, in what Ukraine said was the heaviest wave of missile strikes in nearly nine months of war, echoing a pattern in recent weeks of Moscow lashing out far from the front after losses on the battlefield.
Russia had launched 110 missiles and 10 Iranian-made attack drones into Ukraine by early evening, Ukraine’s armed forces General Staff said in a statement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the main target of the missile flurry was energy infrastructure, as before.
“It’s clear what the enemy wants. He will not achieve this,” he said in a video address on the Telegram messaging app. Kyiv has said such strikes only stiffen its resolve to repel Russian forces that invaded in February.
In the capital Kyiv, flames funnelled out of a five-storey apartment block after being hit by what residents said appeared to be shot-down pieces of missile. The emergency service said one person was confirmed killed and another injured. Kyiv’s mayor said half the capital was left without electricity.
Other strikes or explosions were reported in cities ranging from Lviv and Zhytomyr in the west to Kryvy Rih in the south and Kharkiv in the east. Regional officials reported some of the attacks had knocked out electricity, water and heating.
Just four days ago Russian troops abandoned Kherson city in the south, the only regional capital Moscow had captured since its invasion, and six weeks after President Vladimir Putin declared it an eternal part of Russia.
Moscow had said last week its troops would occupy positions easier to defend on the opposite bank of the Dnipro River that bisects Ukraine. But video images filmed in the town of Oleshky, across a collapsed bridge from Kherson, appeared to show Russian forces had vacated their bunkers there too.
Further east, Russian-installed administrators said they were pulling civil servants out of Kherson province’s second biggest city, Nova Kakhovka, on the river bank next to a huge, strategic dam.
Natalya Humenyuk, a Ukrainian military spokesperson, said Moscow seemed to be repositioning troops and artillery 15-20 km (10-15 miles) further from the Dnipro, to protect its guns from Ukrainian counter-strikes.
Russia had artillery still capable of striking Kherson from those new positions, but “we also have something to answer with”, she said.
A day after visiting Kherson to celebrate the victory there, Zelenskiy told world leaders there would be no respite in Ukraine’s campaign to drive Russian troops out of his country.
“We will not allow Russia to wait it out, build up its forces, and then start a new series of terror and global destabilisation,” he said in an address by video link to a summit of the G20 major economies in Indonesia.
“I am convinced now is the time when the destructive Russian war must and can be stopped.”
Tuesday’s air strikes follow a pattern Russia has maintained since mid-October of carrying out long-range missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities after battlefield losses to a sustained Ukrainian counter-offensive in the east and south.
Moscow has said it is targeting energy infrastructure.
Before quitting Kherson last week, Russia had said it was moving its forces across the Dnipro to better defend territory including the approaches to the strategic Crimea peninsula, which Russia has held since 2014.
But in video filmed in Oleshky, across the river from Kherson on the main highway about two hours’ drive to Crimea, there was no sign of a Russian presence.
A driver raced down the deserted main road for miles at high speed without encountering a single Russian checkpoint or flag. Several bunkers set up along the road appeared to have been evacuated. The location of the video was confirmed by Reuters based on visible landmarks.
In Nova Kakhovka, the Russian-installed administration said on Tuesday civil servants had left to escape shelling, “and were relocated to safe areas in the region”.
There were no confirmed reports of Ukrainian troops crossing the river to pursue the Russians. But some analysts said Ukraine might try to press its battlefield advantage rather than take a so-called “operational pause”.
“Ukraine has the initiative and momentum and is dictating to the Russians where and when the next fight will be,” said Philip Ingram, a former senior British military intelligence officer.
The war was one focus of the G20 summit, where Western leaders denounced Moscow. Russia is a member and Ukraine is not, but Putin stayed home.
Speaking to the gathering, Zelenskiy reiterated longstanding demands that Russia withdraw all forces, free all prisoners and reaffirm Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for peace.
He proposed indefinitely extending a programme to safeguard Ukrainian grain exports to help feed poor countries, expanding it to the port of Mykolaiv, newly beyond reach of Russian guns after the Kherson advance.
Western countries sought a summit declaration that would condemn the war despite Russian opposition and a lack of unanimity. Diplomats circulated a 16-page draft that said: “Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s delegation head in Putin’s absence, accused the West of trying to politicise the declaration.