KYIV, Ukraine — On Monday, an attack on a shopping mall killed 19 civilians. A missile attack on a sleepy resort town on Friday, claiming the lives of at least 21 residents. A cluster bomb attack Saturday on a residential block in an industrial hub, leaving four dead.
The pace of Russia’s attacks on civilian targets, often with outdated and inaccurate missiles, is accelerating, say Ukrainian and Western officials, as well as Russian analysts, as its forces run out of more sophisticated weapons as they struggle to advance. in the fifth month. of the conflict
More than 200 missiles were fired at Ukrainian government-controlled territory in the second half of June, more than twice as many as in the first half of the month, the Ukrainian brigadier reported. General Oleksii Hromov said at a press conference on Thursday.
Some of the deadliest attacks of the war occurred in the past week. In Monday’s attack on a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk, Russia fired two Kh-class missiles. The same type of missile hit an apartment building in the Black Sea resort of Serhiivka on Friday.
Soviet Kh-class missiles, designed to target ships, entered the country’s arsenal in the 1960s, leading analysts to speculate that Russia’s ability to strike with modern weapons is diminishing as its forces prepare. for the next stage of the conflict.
The use of such weapons “to terrorize Ukrainian cities from the air serves as further evidence of Russia’s declining stockpile of long-range precision munitions,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian military analyst.
That assessment was echoed by UK defense attaché Mick Smeath, who on Saturday said the use of old anti-ship rockets pointed to a decline in Russia’s modern weapons.
On Saturday, Russian forces entered Lysychansk, the last city in the eastern province of Luhansk that remained outside of Russian control, according to Moscow State News Agency, social media posts by pro-Russian forces and a Ukrainian soldier stationed in the city. Both sides said fighting continues in parts of the city.
Military analysts warn that Russia now faces the difficult task of maintaining its slow-moving offensive in neighboring Donetsk province to achieve its declared war goal of capturing Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region as its losses mount.
Better understand the Russia-Ukraine war
Russia’s increasing use of Kh-class missiles has coincided with rising estimates of Russian military casualties by Western intelligence agencies. British defense chief Ben Wallace said last week that 25,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in the war. That number, the highest estimate yet provided by a top Western official, could not be independently confirmed. The latest Pentagon estimate puts Russian losses at 15,000.
“Moscow does not want to end the war, but it needs to catch its breath to heal the wounds and partially replenish its weapons arsenal,” Luzin said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday night that Russian forces had launched more than 3,000 missiles at Ukraine in four months of war.
More broadly, Ukrainian officials warn that the sharp rise in civilian attacks could signal a new phase in the war, as Russia tries to compensate for its dwindling military capacity with attempts to degrade Ukrainian morale.
“The Russians have moved to the concept of war where they want to create large-scale panic in Ukraine,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, told Ukraine’s Channel 24 television on Saturday. He said that Russia was doing it to pressure the Ukrainian government to give up territory in exchange for peace, which would allow the Kremlin to claim victory.
Since the start of the war, Russia has maintained an increasingly untenable position that it only fires at military targets and that Ukraine has co-opted any civilian installations that have been attacked for military use.
These claims have found resonance with the Russian people, many of whom are influenced by state-controlled television networks and conservative pro-war online commentators who reinforce the party line.
In recent days, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has intensified its efforts to escape blame, particularly among the Russian public, many of whom have deep cultural and family ties to Ukraine, by portraying the bombing of civilian targets as false flag by the Ukrainian government.
On Friday, for example, the Russian military claimed without evidence that the attack on Odessa, until recently a majority Russian-speaking city, was carried out by paid actors. The surge in attacks on civilian targets comes as both sides have called for incremental military gains in recent days.
Ukraine was forced to withdraw most of its soldiers from Lysychansk on Saturday to escape an impending encirclement by Russian forces that broke through defenses south of the city, according to the Ukrainian soldier stationed there, Sergiy, who asked that his last name be used. was held for security reasons. The successful withdrawal was confirmed on Russian state television by Apti Alaudinov, a commander from Russia’s Chechnya region stationed in Donbas.
On the southern edge of the eastern front, Ukrainian forces continued a random counteroffensive that brought them within 20 miles of the city of Kherson, a provincial capital captured by Russia in the early days of the war.
A senior US Department of Defense official said last week that the Ukrainians were not only retaking southern villages, but also showing the ability to hold reclaimed ground.
Ukraine’s military also claimed to have struck Russian military targets near Kherson on Friday. “Operating in pairs, our pilots attacked ammunition depots and a group of enemy troops and equipment” in Russian-controlled villages north of the city, the Southern Command said in a Facebook post.
Military analysts have attributed some of Ukraine’s incremental gains in the south to the steady flow of advanced Western weaponry to its armed forces.
Recently, the first batch of American-made multiple rocket launchers, called High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, entered the battlefield. Armed with satellite-guided rockets, they have a range of more than 40 miles, greater than anything Ukraine has previously had.
Still, only four of the launchers and their US-trained crews have joined the fray, though four more are expected this month. Ukrainian officials say they need up to 300 multiple rocket launchers to combat Russia, which is firing several times as many rounds as Ukraine’s forces in the artillery-driven war of attrition.
Military analysts have warned that despite Ukraine’s gains in the south, they are currently unable to mount a broad counteroffensive to seize the city of Kherson, where Russian defenders are well entrenched, a sign of a protracted conflict ahead.
valerie hopkins reported from Kyiv, Thomas Gibbons Neff from Warsaw and Anatoly Kurmanev of Berlin The report was contributed by marc santora in Warsaw, Ivan Nechepurenko in Tbilisi, Georgia, Daniel Victor in London, and Eric Schmitt Y John Ismay in Washington.