KYIV, Feb 10 (Reuters): Russia launched a wave of attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in the cities of Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia on Friday morning as Ukrainian officials said a long-awaited Russian offensive was under way in the east.
At least 17 missiles hit the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia in an hour, acting mayor Anatolii Kurtiev said, and the state grid operator said high-voltage facilities across the country had been hit and electricity supplies shut down.
Russia has repeatedly struck civilian infrastructure far from the front lines over the last four months, leaving millions of Ukrainians in major cities without power, heat or water for days at a time in the middle of winter.
Air raid sirens blared across the country during the morning rush hour and local officials urged weary civilians to heed them and take shelter.
Kyiv's city administration said air defences were working as explosions were heard in the capital.
Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov reported about 10 explosions and said power had been cut in some areas.
Critical infrastructure was also hit in Khmelnitskyi in the west and the Dnipropetrovsk region in central Ukraine, regional officials said.
Air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat told Ukrainian television that Ukrainian air defences had shot down five of seven drones and five out of six Kaliber missiles.
However, the air force also said Russia had launched 35 S-300 missiles, which Ukraine's air defences are unable to shoot down, at the Kharkiv and Zaporizhizhia regions.
Ukraine has been bracing itself for a new Russian offensive in the belief that, after months of reverses, President Vladimir Putin wants to be able to tout a battlefield success before the anniversary of the invasion he launched on Feb. 24.
Russia's main focus has been the town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk province, a region whose capture has been one of Moscow's declared priorities since the start of the war.
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni criticised France and Germany on Thursday after she was not invited to a dinner in Paris with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, adding to friction between the European Union allies.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met Zelenskiy on Wednesday evening ahead of an EU summit on Thursday.
But unlike last year, when the then-Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi worked hand-in-hand with Macron and Scholz on Ukraine, Meloni was left out in the cold.
Speaking to reporters as she arrived at the Brussels summit, Meloni, who took office last October, said she thought the snub was "inappropriate".
"I think our strength in this fight is unity," she added.
She later met Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the EU meeting.
Asked about her comments, Macron said he thought Wednesday's dinner had been fitting.
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