Russian missiles pounded cities across Ukraine early Thursday morning, according to authorities, sparking fires, killing at least two people and trapping others under rubble.
The early morning missile attack on what’s known as the International Day of Peace was Russia’s largest in over a month, and came amid the United Nations General Assembly summit in New York, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week denounced Russia as “a terrorist state.”
Zelenskyy, who delivered a speech presenting a Ukrainian “peace formula,” was to meet Thursday with U.S. President Joe Biden and congressional leaders in Washington with an additional $24 billion US aid package being proposed.
In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, near the front lines, two people were killed Thursday and at least five injured after a strike hit a residential building, said regional Gov. Oleksand Prokudin.
Seven people were injured in Kyiv, including a nine-year-old girl, reported Mayor Vitalii Klitschko, and some residential and commercial buildings were damaged.
The Ukrainian Air Force said it had intercepted 36 of 43 cruise missiles launched deep into Ukraine. Closer to the the front lines, Kherson was struck with S-300 missiles and Kharkiv was likely targeted with shorter-range weapons.
At least six strikes damaged civilian infrastructure in the Slobidskyi district of Kharkiv, said regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov. The city’s mayor added that two people had been hospitalized.
As well, at least 10 people were injured and at least one person was rescued from under rubble in Cherkasy, in central Ukraine, according to Ihor Klymenko, minister of internal affairs of Ukraine. Up to 23 people may still be buried under rubble after the morning strike, said Cherkasy regional Gov. Ihor Taburets.
An industrial zone was hit in the western region of Lviv, damaging buildings and starting a fire, but no information on casualties was immediately available, Klymenko added.
Regional Gov. Vitalii Koval reported strikes in the city of Rivne in the northwest region of the same name, without immediately providing details.
Pushback on Ukraine aid
The attacks come as Ukraine faces mounting concerns from its ally Poland, as well as Republicans in the U.S.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called the Ukrainian president “our best messenger” in persuading U.S. lawmakers to keep vital U.S. money and weapons coming.
“It’s really important for members of Congress to be able to hear directly from the president about what he’s facing in this counteroffensive,” Kirby told reporters Wednesday, “and how he’s achieving his goals, and what he needs to continue to achieve those goals.”
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There is opposition to more aid to Ukraine within the Donald Trump-aligned ranks of the Republican Party. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is planning a separate meeting with Zelenskyy, with a smaller bipartisan group of lawmakers and committee chairmen.
“I will have questions for President Zelenskyy,” he told reporters.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul — described recently by his own party’s senior leader Mitch McConnell as an “isolationist” on foreign policy — rejected on Wednesday “funnelling billions of dollars, that have to be borrowed, into the meat grinder of Eastern Ukraine.”
Paul cited a lack of oversight into how the dollars were being spent, Russia’s might as a nuclear power and what he characterized as limited progress from Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the past several months.
Grain dispute with Eastern European countries
Ukraine is also getting pushback from Poland, which until now has been a major supporter with respect to military aid, as well as taking in tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war.
Poland said it would stop transferring its own weapons to its neighbour as it works to modernize its own military, but denied the decision was linked to a simmering dispute over a temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the decision would not affect NATO and U.S. weapons transfers through Poland.
“We are no longer transferring any weapons to Ukraine because now we will arm ourselves with the most modern weapons,” he said in an interview on the private TV broadcaster Polsat News late Wednesday.
A dispute about whether Ukrainian grain should be allowed to enter the domestic markets of Poland and a few other European Union countries including Hungary and Slovakia has pushed the tight relationship between Kyiv and Warsaw to its lowest point since the invasion.
Morawiecki said the dispute over grain imports would not hurt Ukraine’s security.
“We are not going to risk the security of Ukraine,” he said.
On the battlefield, while Ukraine suffered a barrage on Thursday, Russia’s Ministry of Defence reported 22 drones were taken down overnight by air defence systems, 19 above Russian-annexed Crimea and three others in the Kursk, Belgorod and Oryol regions near Ukraine. The defence ministry did not say whether there were any casualties.