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Russia unleashes missiles, drones at Ukraine after Kyiv secures tanks, 11 dead

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KYIV, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Russia sent Ukrainian civilians racing for cover with a barrage of missiles and drones, killing at least 11 people according to officials, a day after Kyiv won Western pledges of dozens of battlefield tanks to try to repel Russia's invasion.

Moscow reacted with fury to the German and American announcements, and has in the past responded to apparent Ukrainian successes with massed air strikes that have left millions without light, heat or water.

Ukraine said it had shot down all 24 drones sent overnight by Russia, including 15 around the capital, and 47 of 55 Russian missiles - some fired from Tu-95 strategic bombers in the Russian Arctic.

Air raid alarms had sounded across Ukraine as people headed to work. In the capital, crowds took cover for a time in underground metro stations.

Eleven people were killed and 11 wounded in the drone and missile strikes, which spanned 11 regions and also damaged 35 buildings, a State Emergency Service spokesperson said.

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"I'm left without anything ... Not a single room is left intact, everything got hit," said Halyna Panosyan, 67, surveying twisted sheets of corrugated metal, crumpled masonry and a large missile crater outside her ruined house in Hlevakha near Kyiv.

"At first, I heard a roar. And then there was an extremely loud strike that made me jump up. I was in the bedroom ... I was saved by the fact that the bedroom is to the other side of the house."

A 70-year-old woman who gave her name only as Valentyna said she managed to survive by scrambling out of her damaged house over glass splinters. "Everything was in rubble," she said.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said electricity substations had been hit as Russia continued to target energy facilities.

The Kremlin said it saw the promised delivery of Western tanks as evidence of growing "direct involvement" of the United States and Europe in the 11-month-old war, something both deny.

DTEK, Ukraine's largest private energy producer, said it was conducting pre-emptive emergency shutdowns in Kyiv, the surrounding region and the regions of Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk.

In Odesa, the Black Sea port designated a "World Heritage in Danger" site on Wednesday by the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, Russian missiles damaged energy facilities, authorities said, just as French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was arriving.

"What we saw today, new strikes on civilian Ukrainian infrastructure is not waging war, it's waging war crimes," she said.

Colonna was due to meet her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, to discuss humanitarian and military aid and potentially whether France might join its NATO allies in supplying Ukraine with battle tanks, in this case its own Leclerc model.

Both Moscow and Kyiv, which have so far relied on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, are expected to mount new ground offensives in spring.

'FIST OF FREEDOM'

[1/24]  Local residents remove debris from a house of their neighbour damaged by a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the town of Hlevakha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine January 26, 2023. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Ukraine has been asking for hundreds of modern tanks in the hope of using them to break Russian defensive lines and recapture occupied territory in the south and east.

"The key now is speed and volumes. Speed in training our forces, speed in supplying tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on Wednesday. "We have to form such a 'tank fist', such a 'fist of freedom'."

Maintaining Kyiv's drumbeat of requests, Zelenskiy said he had spoken to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and asked for long-range missiles and aircraft.

Ukraine's allies have already provided billions of dollars in military aid, including sophisticated U.S. missile systems that have helped turn the tide of the war.

The United States has been wary of deploying its difficult-to-maintain M1 Abrams tanks, but ultimately promised 31 to persuade Germany to pledge its more easily operated German-built Leopards.

Germany will initially send 14 tanks from its inventory and approve shipments by allied European states, with the ultimate aim of equipping two battalions - in the region of 100 tanks.

It said its Leopards should be operational in three to four months, and Britain said on Thursday it expected the 14 Challenger tanks it is sending to be in Ukraine in two months.

Colonna said that Paris has yet to make a decision on whether to send Leclerc main battle tanks. "Their priority today is air defence systems," she said, adding that France would respond to those needs by doing more on that front.

On the diplomatic front, The United States on Thursday formally designated Russian private military company the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization, freezing its U.S. assets for helping Russia's military in the Ukraine war.

FIGHTING IN EAST UKRAINE

Since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year, Russia has shifted its emphasis from "denazifying" and "demilitarising" its neighbour to confronting a purportedly aggressive and expansionist U.S.-led NATO alliance.

Nikolai Patrushev, close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and secretary of his Security Council, was quoted as saying that "even with the end of the 'hot phase' of the conflict in Ukraine, the Anglo-Saxon world will not stop the proxy war against Russia and its allies".

Russia's invasion has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble, while spurring Sweden and Russia's neighbour Finland to apply to join NATO.

Bakhmut, a town in eastern Ukraine with a pre-war population of 70,000, has seen some of the bloodiest combat of the war.

The Russian-installed governor of Donetsk said on Wednesday units of Wagner militia were advancing inside Bakhmut, with fighting on the outskirts and in areas recently held by Ukraine.

However, the U.S.-based non-profit Institute for the Study of War said attacks on Bakhmut appeared to have stalled as Russia directed conventional forces to the north, trying to complete the seizure of Ukraine's Luhansk province.

Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Cynthia Osterman, Himani Sarkar Kevin Liffey and William Maclean; editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel, Timothy Heritage, Tomasz Janowski and Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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