Russia intensifies its strike on Ukraine ahead of the Victory Day holiday on May 9

(Reuters) – Russia has launched a wave of drone, missile and air strikes on Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, officials said on Monday, as Moscow stepped up its attacks as it prepared for the cherished Victory Day holiday marking Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945.

16 missile strikes targeted the cities of Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odessa, as well as 61 air strikes and 52 missile strikes on Ukrainian positions and populated areas, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its morning update on the fighting.

The military said that Ukrainian air defenses destroyed all 35 Iranian-made UAVs flown by Russia.

The Kiev mayor said at least five people were injured in the capital, amid damage to a fuel depot, cars, buildings and infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, civilians were killed and injured, and high-rise buildings, private homes and other civilian infrastructure were damaged,” the army said.

A food warehouse caught fire in the Black Sea city of Odessa.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

The new attacks come as Moscow prepares for Tuesday’s Victory Day parade, a key event for President Vladimir Putin who fanned the spirit of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, after he accused Ukraine of being in the grip of a new kind of fascism.

Ukraine and its allies say the accusation was a baseless pretext for Russia’s unprovoked invasion in February 2022, which unleashed Europe’s biggest conflict since World War Two, killing thousands and forcing millions to flee the country.

“We must always be ready to betray the enemy and the defense,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

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The Ukrainian general who commands the defense of the besieged city said that Russia has intensified its bombardment of Bakhmut, hoping to capture it by Tuesday, after the Russian mercenary group Wagner abandoned plans to withdraw from it.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a Telegram that three people were injured in an explosion in the Solomyansky district of Kiev and two when the wreckage of a drone landed in the Svyatoshin district, west of the capital’s centre.

Kiev’s military department said the wreckage of a drone landed on a runway at Zhulyany Airport, one of the capital’s two passenger airports, prompting emergency services there, although there was no fire.

She added that it appeared that the wreckage of a drone hit a two-storey building in the Shevchenkivsky district in the center of the country, causing damage.

Reuters witnesses said they heard several explosions in Kiev and local officials said air defense systems were repelling the attacks.

Flames engulfed a large building identified as a food warehouse in images posted to Telegram by Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the military department in Odessa, after what he said was a Russian attack.

After air raid alerts sounded for hours over nearly two-thirds of Ukraine, media said explosions rang out in the southern Kherson region and southeastern Zaporizhia.

Vladimir Rogov, the Russian official in Zaporozhye, said Russian forces had bombed a warehouse and outpost of Ukrainian forces in the small town of Orekiv. Reuters could not independently verify the news.

Meanwhile, Russian forces bombed eight locations in Sumy in northeastern Ukraine on Sunday, the regional military administration said in a Facebook post.

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The strikes also intensified in the past two weeks on Russian targets, especially in the Crimea.

Ukraine has not confirmed any role in those attacks, but says destroying enemy infrastructure is a preparation for its long-awaited ground offensive.

(This story was reworded May 7 to correct a typo to read “escalation” in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Lydia Kelly from Melbourne); Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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