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Kateryna Navzorova, 65 walks near her destroyed vehicle as a result of the recent rocket attack in Kyiv on March 9.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

Russia launched one of the largest air strikes of its war against Ukraine on Thursday, hitting critical infrastructure around the country with cruise missiles and explosive drones.

The Russian military called the barrage, which killed at least 10 people, “a massive retaliatory strike” for a bizarre incident on March 2 that saw a group of far-right Russians – who are fighting on Ukraine’s side in the conflict – stage a cross-border incursion into Russia’s Bryansk region. Moscow said two civilians were killed in the ensuing gunfight.

Thursday’s attack involved six hypersonic Kh-47M2 Kinzhal cruise missiles, which the Ukrainian military said marked the first time Russia has fired the nuclear-capable weapon during more than a year of full-scale warfare. It’s unclear how many Kinzhals – which Russia says fly at Mach 12, leaving Ukraine with no way of shooting them down – Moscow has in its arsenal.

“It’s been a difficult night. A massive rocket attack across the country,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on his Telegram channel, hours after residents of Kyiv and at least nine other cities were woken first by air-raid sirens and then loud explosions. “The enemy fired 81 missiles in an attempt to intimidate Ukrainians again, returning to their miserable tactics.”

Kyiv residents walk past damaged cars during a recent Russian missile attack on March 9.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

In addition to the Kinzhals, the barrage included six Kh-22 anti-ship missiles, 13 S-300 anti-aircraft missiles – both of which have been modified to strike ground targets – and eight Iranian-made Shahed drones.

The Ukrainian military said it shot down 34 of the cruise missiles and four of the drones but had no way to counter some of the most advanced Russian weaponry. “We aren’t yet able to shoot down Kinzhal, Kh-22 and S-300 missiles,” said Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for Ukraine’s air force. “The Russians wanted to hit our air defence system with guided air missiles.”

While Ukraine doesn’t reveal damage done to military targets, some of the projectiles struck civilian areas.

Five people were killed when a missile slammed into a residential area in the Lviv region of western Ukraine. Drone footage of the scene posted by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry showed at least one house completely destroyed, while several neighbouring homes were badly damaged. Four more people died when a missile struck a bus stop in the southern city of Kherson, and one person was reportedly killed in the central Dnipro region.

Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian military, said all the missiles hit their targets. “Long-range air-, sea- and ground-based high-precision weapons, including Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, hit key Ukrainian military infrastructure sites, enterprises of the military-industrial complex and related energy facilities,” he said, calling the strikes a response to Ukraine’s sponsorship of the March 2 attack on Bryansk.

Thursday’s attacks coincided with the birthday of Taras Shevchenko, a 19th-century Ukrainian poet who is considered one of the first advocates of his country’s independence from Russian imperialism.

Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said 40 per cent of residents had been left without heat after a pair of missile attacks on the capital, one of which struck a thermoelectric plant in the south of the city. In the city’s western Sviatoshynskiy district, the flaming debris from an intercepted projectile fell onto the parking lot of a 22-storey apartment complex. At least four vehicles were scorched, including Kateryna Nevzorova’s 10-year-old green Daewoo Matiz. “I turned 65 yesterday, and that’s bitter sour present I’ve received from the Russians at 7 a.m. today,” Ms. Nevzorova said.

Multiple strikes were also reported on the cities of Kharkiv, in the east, and Zhytomyr in the central west, as well as the southern port of Odesa. All three cities were without electricity for much of Thursday, and Kharkiv’s metro and tram systems were disabled.

The attacks cut power to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – which is under Russian occupation but relies on electricity supplied by the Ukrainian grid – for the sixth time in the war. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has monitors stationed at the plant, said diesel generators were used for several hours Thursday as an emergency measure to keep reactor fuel cool and prevent a meltdown.

The air strikes came as Russia’s ground forces continued to try to push Ukrainian troops out of the southeastern city of Bakhmut, the scene of a devastating siege that has already lasted more than seven months. On Wednesday, Russia’s Wagner Group mercenary force claimed to be in control of the eastern half of the city.

Mr. Zelensky has vowed that Ukraine will continue to defend Bakhmut in order to prevent Russia from moving forward to assault other Ukrainian-controlled cities in the Donbas region.

Russia launched a huge wave of missile strikes across Ukraine while people slept on Thursday, killing at least six civilians, knocking out electricity, and forcing a nuclear power plant off the grid.