Key developments on Jan. 14-15:
- Death toll in missile strike on Dnipro currently at 30 as first responders continue to rescue civilians from rubble
- Energy Minister: Russia's Jan. 14 mass missile strike hits energy infrastructure in 6 oblasts
- UK announces Challenger 2 tanks and 155mm artillery in major new military aid package for Ukraine
- Ukrainian drone commander says Russia takes full control over Soledar as fighting continues near western outskirts of destroyed town
The death toll of the Jan. 14 Russian cruise missile strike on an apartment building in Dnipro has risen to 30, with 75 reported injured so far including 13 children, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said on Jan. 15.
First responders continued to work around the clock over Jan. 15 to rescue residents trapped under the rubble of the nine-story apartment building, in which 72 apartments were completely destroyed.
According to Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Governor Valentyn Reznichenko, more than 40 people were being treated in local hospitals in Dnipro following the attack.
Reportedly launched from a Russian Tu-22 strategic bomber above Kursk Oblast in western Russia, the missile used was a Kh-22, a crude, 12-meter-long cruise missile designed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s initially as an anti-ship weapon.
The same missile was used by Russia to strike a shopping center in Kremenchuk on June 27 last year, in an attack that killed 20 people.
Late on Jan 14, the Ukrainian Air Force said that Ukraine currently has no air defense system capable of shooting down Kh-22 missiles, of which 210 have been launched at Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“Only anti-aircraft missile systems, which in the future may be provided to Ukraine by Western partners (referring to Patriot PAC-3 or SAMP-T missiles), are capable of intercepting these targets,” said Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of Ukraine’s air force.
Both the U.S. and Germany have each pledged a battery of the advanced Patriot air defense system, though training and delivery of them is expected to take at least several months.
Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat later added that any earlier reports of Kh-22 missiles having been shot down by Ukraine were false.
The strike on Dnipro was part of Russia’s 10th mass missile attack on Ukraine since Oct. 10 last year, which again targeted energy infrastructure across the country.
According to Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko, energy infrastructure was hit in six Ukrainian oblasts across Ukraine in the afternoon of Jan. 14.
Dnipro mayor Borys Filatov said on Jan. 14 that it was possible that the strike on the apartment building in Dnipro may have intended to hit a power station 2.5 kilometers away, Radio Svoboda reported. The out-of-date Kh-22 missile is understood to be significantly less accurate than its more modern counterparts in Russia’s arsenal.
Ukrainian air defense forces shot down 25 out of 38 missiles, including air-launched Kh-101, Kh-555, and Kh-59 models, as well as sea-launched Kalibr missiles.
Explosions were reported in at least 10 Ukrainian regions across the country, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Khmelnytskyi, Ternopil, Dnipropetrovsk, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Vinnytsia, Mykolaiv, and Odesa oblasts.
‘Gear change’ in UK support for Ukraine
In a major development in the ongoing military support provided to Ukraine by its Western partners, the U.K announced early on Jan. 15 that it would provide 14 British-made Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, as well as 30 AS90 self-propelled 155mm howitzers as part of a major new package of military aid to Ukraine.
The tank squadron will be delivered to Ukraine in the coming weeks, with the self-propelled artillery following soon after, the U.K. Prime Minister's Office said.
Citing a “senior defense official,” British tabloid The Mirror reported on Jan. 15 that the U.K. will also send four Apache attack helicopters, armed with Hellfire missiles, to Ukraine.
The U.K. defense ministry denied the rumors that Apache helicopters would be sent, according to Sky News correspondent Deborah Haynes. The full details of the new U.K. military aid package will be released on Jan. 16.
The announcement came four days after Polish President Andrzej Duda announced the delivery of 12 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Duda said that the tanks would be delivered as part of a growing “international coalition” to provide Ukraine with Western-built tanks, with several European nations including Finland signalling their willingness to contribute.
Any delivery of German-built Leopard tanks must still be approved by Berlin, which has yet to give an official all-clear. On Jan. 13, Bloomberg reported that Germany would announce its final decision ahead of the next round of the Rammstein defense summit on Jan. 20.
In these small numbers, the tank deliveries will not be enough on their own to tip the war in favour of Ukraine.
In a Dec. 15 interview with The Economist, Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi said that Ukraine needed “300 tanks, 700 infantry fighting vehicles, and 500 howitzers” to liberate all of Ukraine’s occupied territories.
However, the recent announcements from the U.K. and Poland, along with U.S. and German commitments of Western Bradley and Marder infantry fighting vehicles, represent new intent to empower Ukraine not just to defend itself, but to conduct successful large-scale offensive operations at a time when the front line has become more static and defensive.
Both Ukraine and Russia are expected to conduct offensives in spring, and it remains to be seen which side will have the greater initiative.
In a Jan. 15 interview with German outlet Handelsblatt, NATO Secretary-General said that Ukraine can expect more heavy weapons deliveries “in the near future.”
“We are in a critical phase of the war,” he said. "That's why it's important that we provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to win.”
Pushed to the edge in Soledar
Though Ukraine claims to continue to hold positions in the western outskirts of Soledar in Donetsk Oblast, Russia appears to have taken control over the remaining territory within the administrative limits of the town.
On the evening of Jan. 15, Ukrainian drone unit commander Robert “Magyar” Brovdy reported that Russian forces had successfully taken the No. 7 mine in Soledar, an admission that the remaining territory inside the administrative boundaries of the town had been taken.
"From now on, the front will be nearby, but outside the city limits. A positional war was going on in this direction," he wrote on Telegram.
Earlier on Jan. 15, Magyar shared footage of the Ukrainian flag flying in an industrial area near the railway line on the western edge of the town.
In its Jan. 14 assessment of the war in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War nonetheless reported that Ukrainian forces “likely do not hold positions in the settlement of Soledar itself.”
In recent days Russia’s claimed capture of Soledar has become the subject of heated public conflict between the Russian Defense Ministry and the state-backed private military company Wagner Group, the army of mercenaries and convicts which has been leading the Russian assault on Soledar and neighboring Bakhmut.
When making his first claim of the Russian capture of Soledar on Jan. 10, Wagner Group leader and close aide of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, put emphasis on the fact that “no other units took part in the taking of Soledar apart from the Wagner Group”.
Later, in a thinly-veiled attack on the Russian Defense Ministry, Prigozhin accused other forces of trying to “steal” Wagner’s “victories.”
Speaking live on Ukrainian television on Jan. 15, Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhii Cherevatyi spoke of the high casualties Russian forces were taking in their relentless assualt on Soledar, saying that they were “stepping over their own corpses” to attack in some areas.
“In particular, it’s the assault groups that are trying one by one to overcome the resistance of the Ukrainian side,” he said. “This way of fighting leads to great enemy losses.”
Citing U.S. security officials and Ukrainian special forces officer Taras Berezovets, the Financial Times reported on Jan. 14 that Wagner Group forces have suffered an estimated 4,000 killed in action and 10,000 injured along the Soledar-Bakhmut sector.
for an independent Ukraine