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Russian missiles killed 16 and wounded more than 160 in Ukraine this morning

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More than a hundred Russian missiles and drones fell on Ukrainian cities this morning. Ukrainian officials say it's the biggest air assault of the war, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 160. A shopping mall, a school and a factory are among the places that were hit. NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in Ukraine and has more details from Lviv. Hi, Elissa.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the strikes and what was targeted.

NADWORNY: So this morning, people all across Ukraine woke up to the sound of air raid sirens. There were incoming missiles and drones. Lviv was hit. Kharkiv was hit; Dnipro, Kyiv, Odessa - so many cities across the country. The targets ended up being largely civilian infrastructure - residential buildings, commercial buildings. They were hit in the morning as people were about to start their day, and they lasted several hours.

And, Ari, one of Russia's missiles appears to have briefly entered the airspace of Poland, which is a NATO country. That is according to Poland's military, which said an aerial object was spotted in Friday's early morning hours during this barrage. It only lasted about three minutes in Polish airspace, reaching about 40 kilometers inside Poland before flying back over to Ukraine. And something like that is rare and kind of reminds people of those early concerns at the beginning of the war that this could spread out of Ukraine because, of course, NATO has a joint defense pact.

SHAPIRO: What kind of damage did these attacks cause to buildings and other infrastructure in the country?

NADWORNY: So the missile attacks didn't appear to hit critical infrastructure, like electrical systems or power grids. Instead, it was mostly where civilians live and visit. In the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine, the attack hit a shopping mall and a maternity hospital. Artem Risukhin was in Dnipro visiting his family for Christmas. He planned to go to the cinema tonight at that shopping mall in Dnipro. He had a ticket to see the new "Ferrari" movie. The theater is now closed. Here he is.

ARTEM RISUKHIN: The world somehow is growing tired of the - of news from Ukraine while we try not to get tired of being bombed, of being terrorized.

NADWORNY: In Kyiv, a factory was hit. The mayor there said rescue workers were still searching for people that might be under the debris. In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the targets across Ukraine also included a school, 45 high-rise buildings and more than a hundred private houses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He says rescue efforts are underway in multiple cities, which means those numbers of dead and wounded are rising as more people are discovered in the rubble.

SHAPIRO: Ukrainian officials say the country's air defense systems managed to shoot down most of the missiles even though there were a lot of them, right?

NADWORNY: Yeah. Ukrainian officials say, you know, this was the largest aerial attack. It's unclear if that includes the days of the initial invasion back in February of 2022. You know, the Air Force wasn't tracking back then. What's different now, Ari, is that Ukraine has new Western-supplied air defense systems, including the U.S.-supplied Patriot defense system.

So, yeah, they were able to shoot down the majority of those missiles, and that's likely what Russia was aiming to test and ultimately weaken because the systems have to engage and shoot down incoming weapons. The Air Force said what made this attack so bad is the volume - all at once.

SHAPIRO: What else have Ukrainian officials said in response to today's attacks?

NADWORNY: President Zelenskyy said Ukraine would respond, though he did not provide any details. And the Ministry of Defence of Russia claimed that Ukraine shot U.S.-made HARM missiles into Russian territory this afternoon. Ukraine has not confirmed that it fired those. And this comes at a time when officials here in Ukraine are really worried that support from Europe and the U.S. is waning. The minister of foreign affairs here said he wanted the sound of explosions in Ukraine to be heard all across the world.

You know, Ari, it's been a very quiet fall in Ukraine, which has allowed Russia to stockpile this barrage of weapons. And Ukrainian officials are bracing for more attacks like the one this morning to continue, especially - you know, New Year's Eve is coming on Sunday, which is a big holiday here in Ukraine, and the threat is extremely high.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Elissa Nadworny reporting in Ukraine from the city of Lviv. Thank you. Be safe.

NADWORNY: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.