As Russia Tries to Pummel Kyiv, a Blast in Crimea Hints at Ukraine’s Reach
Ukraine’s air defenses shot down dozens of Russian missiles in the skies above Kyiv early Thursday, casting flaming debris over the Ukrainian capital on the same day that an explosion derailed a Russian freight train in Crimea, the latest in a series of blasts in Russian-occupied territory.
Russia’s railway operator said that “unauthorized persons” were behind the derailment, suggesting an act of sabotage. The Ukrainian authorities, who often do not confirm or deny responsibility for incidents in Crimea or Russia, did not claim any role in the derailment.
The missile attack and the explosion in Crimea come as both Russia and Ukraine are preparing for a widely expected Ukrainian offensive aiming to retake occupied land. In anticipation of that campaign, Russia has fired volley after volley of missiles — Thursday was the ninth attack on Kyiv this month — in a long-range effort to demoralize civilians and keep Ukraine’s air defenses tied up away from the front.
And the explosion in Crimea fit a pattern of strikes on Russian railways, supply lines, fuel depots and ammunition stores that analysts call a Ukrainian push to handicap Russia’s war machine and sow instability ahead of the offensive.
Ukraine’s air defenses intercepted 29 of 30 missiles fired at Ukraine overnight, the country’s military said on Thursday. Debris from one destroyed missile caused a fire in a Kyiv neighborhood, but there were no injuries, according to Serhiy Popko, the city’s military administrator.
“A series of air attacks on Kyiv, unprecedented in its power, intensity and variety, continues,” Mr. Popko said on Telegram.
The missile that slipped through Ukraine’s defenses struck an industrial infrastructure site in the southern port of Odesa, city officials said. One civilian was killed and two others were injured, according to the Ukrainian military’s southern command.
Kyiv in particular has been subject to attack after attack in recent weeks. Russian and U.S. officials had said this week that a Patriot missile system, shielding the city from ballistic missiles, had been damaged in an earlier barrage. But U.S. officials said the system remained operational.
Ukraine has sought to pressure Russian forces both in contested regions — making recent gains in the grueling battle for the city of Bakhmut — and far from the front lines. The Russian authorities and their proxies have reported a series of explosions and attacks in recent weeks, including a series of railway blasts.
The derailment in Crimea on Thursday caused no injuries but interrupted rail service between two cities, Simferopol and Sevastopol, according to Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor. The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said eight cars derailed, citing a Crimean transport minister.
Video verified by The New York Times showed that the train derailed on the outskirts of Simferopol. It was not immediately clear whether the train was moving at the time.
Crimea plays an important role in supplying Russian troops in occupied territories and holds enormous symbolic value to the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, who seized the peninsula in 2014 and has described it as a centerpiece of Russia’s national restoration.
Ukrainian officials have vowed to retake the peninsula, and it has been subject to attacks since Russia’s full-scale invasion began last year, including an explosion that badly damaged the bridge linking Crimea to Russia.
Without taking responsibility, Ukrainian officials have described blasts at Russian infrastructure sites as affecting Russia’s ability to fight — and to prepare for the offensive.
“On those tracks, in particular, weapons, ammunition, armored vehicles and other means used for the war of aggression against Ukraine are transported,” Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, said on Ukrainian television on Thursday. “It is quite natural that these tracks did not hold up, got tired and now are not functioning for a while.”
But analysts said that although railways are a critical artery for Russia’s war logistics, individual strikes on them have had limited effects.
“The railroad track was always restored in at most a day, and the day after an explosion, trains were already running as usual,” said Ruslan Leviev, an analyst with the Conflict Intelligence Team, an investigative group. “This is more of a gain in a moral sense, in the spirit of, ‘Look, we can blow up targets deep in Russian territory.’”
And military experts caution that it is too soon to say whether Ukraine will sustain the apparent attacks, or to assess how effective they have been.
“Whether the attacks will reach sufficient effect to contest Russian operations — we have yet to see,” said Mathieu Boulegue, a Russia expert at Chatham House, a London-based research group. “It’s all about whether it starts to have a systemic effect.”
In recent weeks, pro-Russian officials have also accused Ukraine of launching drone strikes on the peninsula. In one example, a drone attack on a fuel depot in Sevastopol, the home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, set off an enormous fire in late April.
There have also been attacks on targets in Russian regions close to Ukraine’s border. On Telegram on Thursday, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region asserted that Ukrainian forces had killed two civilians — he did not say how — in a village near the border. Two trains were derailed this month in the Bryansk region, according to local officials.
In several cases, Ukrainian officials have publicly celebrated the incidents. In April, for instance, Mr. Yusov, the intelligence official, said the fuel depot fire in Crimea “was blazing nicely and many Ukrainians and good people in the world enjoyed it.”
Victoria Kim, Anton Troianovski and Haley Willis contributed reporting.