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Strikes in Russian-held Luhansk showcase Ukraine’s longer-range missiles

A view of a damaged multistory apartment block following a blast in Luhansk in Russian-controlled Ukraine on May 15, in a still image taken from video obtained by Reuters. (Reuters)
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KYIV, Ukraine — An explosion rocked the occupied eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk early Monday morning, the latest in a barrage of strikes in recent days that show Kyiv using new, longer-range weapons to hit deep inside Russian-held territory.

Luhansk, controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, sits 60 miles east of the front line and has been out of reach of most Ukrainian weapons, making it a place of relative calm. Since Friday, however, it has come under regular attack.

The Russian Defense Ministry has linked the explosions in Luhansk to Storm Shadow cruise missiles, recently supplied to Ukraine by Britain, which have a range of 155 miles, as well as infrared targeting and stealth capability.

Russia reported the use of the Storm Shadows as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in London on Monday, making the latest stop on a tour of Western European countries.

Before Zelensky’s arrival, the British government released a statement that promised to deliver “hundreds of air defence missiles,” “hundreds of new long-range attack drones” and other unmanned aerial systems to Ukraine in the next few months. Neither Britain nor Ukraine has confirmed the use of the Storm Shadow missiles, which the U.K. government said it had provided on the condition that they be used only on targets within Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, issued a vague but menacing threat, telling reporters Monday that Britain’s plans to supply additional weapons to Ukraine would not influence the outcome of Russia’s war “but will lead to retaliatory actions by the Russian Federation.”

The Storm Shadow’s range is just over three times greater than that of the U.S.-supplied HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system already in use by Ukraine, and it could shift the course of the air war — putting most of occupied Ukraine, including illegally annexed Crimea, within reach.

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A second explosion at a Luhansk barber shop later on Monday “badly injured” Igor Kornet, the interim interior minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic, the Moscow-backed separatist government, according to Russian state media. That explosion was described as a grenade attack, rather than a missile strike.

In total, at least a dozen people have been injured and one killed in attacks in the city since Friday, according to local accounts.

In response to the attacks, the separatist regime announced it would shut off mobile internet in the region and ordered local officials to work from home.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Monday that over the past day, Russia had intercepted one Storm Shadow missile, as well as 10 HIMARS missiles. It was not clear how many were fired in total.

The attacks on Luhansk appear to signal a new chapter in the air war — in which Russia until now has enjoyed a heavy advantage because of its larger arsenal of missiles and fleet of fighter jets and bombers — as new Western technology flows to Ukraine.

On Friday, pro-Russian social media accounts shared images of another new missile that they said Ukraine had used to attack Luhansk: the U.S.-made ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, better known as MALD. These long-range cruise missiles are designed not to inflict damage but divert antiaircraft fire during attacks.

When the British government announced Thursday that it would supply the Storm Shadow missiles, it became the first Western country to supply long-range missiles to Ukraine, answering a months-long plea by Zelensky.

Within just a few days, the weapon has achieved the sort of mythical, game-changing reputation enjoyed initially by the U.S.-made Javelin antitank missiles and the HIMARS.

“We’ve provided them a capability,” said a British official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, when asked if Storm Shadow was used in the attack in Luhansk. “We’d expect them to deploy it, in line with the objective of repelling Russia’s illegal invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory.”

In recent days, there have been reports of other unexplained attacks in other eastern areas far from the front line, including near the occupied city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea.

On Saturday, videos spread on social media of multiple Russian aircraft crashing in Bryansk, a Russian region along Ukraine’s northern border. Russian state media later reported that an Mi-8 military helicopter had crashed, without giving an explanation. There were also reports of further crashes, including another military helicopter and two Russian fighter jets — a Su-34 and a Su-35.

The Ukrainian air force declined to comment on those strikes Saturday. That same day, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, tweeted that the Russian planes were planning to launch an attack on the Chernihiv region and that their destruction was “justice” and “instant karma.”

On Sunday, Yuriy Ihnat, the spokesman for the Ukrainian air force, said that the Russian aircraft “ran into some trouble” and that another helicopter had crashed at the same time.

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So far, President Biden has rebuffed Zelensky’s request for America’s own long-range missile system — known as ATACMS, shorthand for the Army Tactical Missile System. ATACMS have an even longer range than the Storm Shadow, capable of striking targets up to 185 miles away.

The United States, along with other Western partners, has expressed concern about providing Ukraine with longer-range weapons, wary that Kyiv would use the munitions to strike inside Russia and escalate an already worrying conflict with its nuclear-armed neighbor.

Documents leaked to Discord and obtained by The Washington Post have shown that Zelensky privately pined for ways to strike Russia within its own borders.

On May 3, Russia accused Ukraine of staging a drone attack intended to kill President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Ukrainian officials denied involvement and said that Moscow was trying to create justification for retaliatory strikes.

Late Saturday and again early Sunday morning, air raid sirens went off in every one of Ukraine’s regions as Russia attacked. The Ukrainian air force said that 25 drones and three cruise missiles were intercepted overnight, including every attempt to hit Kyiv, the capital.

Ukraine’s air force has said that no damage has been caused by airstrikes on Kyiv since April 28, when Russia initiated a near-incessant barrage on the capital.

Again, much of the shift appears to be thanks to new technology. At the start of the war, Ukraine initially relied on Soviet- and Russian-made air defense systems — including the long-range S-300 and medium-range Buk systems.

In one U.S. document leaked on Discord, the Defense Department’s Joint Staff predicted that Ukraine’s “ability to provide medium range air defense to protect the [front lines] will be completely reduced by May 23,” in part because of the difficulty of procuring more of the Russian-made ammunition needed for those systems.

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But in recent months, Ukraine has increasingly been using Western systems that help plug the gaps. Last week, Ukraine said it had used the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system to shoot down a much-feared Russian hypersonic missile over Kyiv.

Still, many strikes are piercing the defenses.

On Saturday evening, cruise missiles struck the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, in the northeast, and Ternopil, in the west, where there was an enormous explosion. Local authorities in Ternopil said that a commercial facility was hit and that only two injuries were reported. Russian state media reported that the explosions were the result of a successful strike on an ammunition factory.


A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the long-range missile system known as the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) as a cruise missile system. The article has been updated.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Tensions remained high after a rare series of drone attacks in Moscow damaged buildings on Tuesday. It is a rare attack deep inside Russian territory. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed without providing evidence that Ukraine was behind the drone strikes. Kyiv denied involvement.

The strikes came after Russia conducted another aerial attack on Kyiv, killing at least one person and wounding at least four people. The air raid was the 17th attack in May, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

The fight: Russia took control of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers died in the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, in late May. But holding the city will be difficult. The Wagner Group, responsible for the fight and victory in Bakhmut, is allegedly leaving and being replaced by the Russian army.

The upcoming counteroffensive: After a rainy few months left the ground muddy, sticky and unsuitable for heavy vehicles in southern Ukraine, temperatures are rising — and with them, the expectations of a long-awaited counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces.

The frontline: The Washington Post has mapped out the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the United States can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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