December 29, 2023 - Russia launches largest air attack on Ukraine since full-scale invasion

By Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Matt Meyer and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 9:01 p.m. ET, December 29, 2023
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12:33 p.m. ET, December 29, 2023

Death toll in Ukraine rises to 31, according to authorities

From Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, firefighters work on the site of a building damaged after a Russian attack in Kyiv, on Friday.
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, firefighters work on the site of a building damaged after a Russian attack in Kyiv, on Friday. Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP

Authorities continue to update casualty numbers across Ukraine after Russia launched its biggest air attack since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

So far, 31 people have been reported killed, according to regional and national officials:

12:02 p.m. ET, December 29, 2023

Zelensky makes surprise visit to frontline city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, video shows

From Victoria Butenko, Svitlana Vlasova and CNN's Tim Lister

In this still from video, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visits the city of Avdiivka, Ukraine.
In this still from video, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visits the city of Avdiivka, Ukraine. Ukrainian Presidency

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to troops fighting in one of the most fiercely contested parts of the eastern Donetsk region: the ruined city of Avdiivka.

Video released by the Ukrainian Presidency showed Zelensky standing on a muddy track with the town’s name behind him. Two detonations can be heard in the distance as the president speaks. He is also shown presenting medals to troops in an underground bunker.

"Ukraine is defending its own here. Defending our entire nation. Just as on the entire front line," Zelensky said.

"It is hard. It is pain and losses. And these are the people who keep Ukraine alive," the president continued. "Life is being fought for here."

Zelensky said his team "extended Christmas and New Year greetings to the military" and shared his "immense gratitude to all the relatives, to every family of our heroes."

Some background: Avdiivka has been subjected to relentless Russian attacks in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces warned that Russia could concentrate its forces such that Avdiivka "will have the same fate as Bakhmut," referring to the long-contested eastern city that Russia claimed to finally seize last spring.

Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi added that, depending on how the battle for Avdiivka develops, the Ukrainian military would assess whether to withdraw from the town in order to save soldiers' lives. 

Earlier this month, Zelensky called the fighting in Avdiivka an “onslaught” and said the battle could in many ways “determine the overall course of the war.”

11:55 a.m. ET, December 29, 2023

UK says it is sending hundreds of air defense missiles to Ukraine

From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls

The United Kingdom is sending "hundreds of air defense missiles" to Ukraine, British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday, after Russia’s biggest air attack on Ukraine since the beginning of its full-scale invasion.

"We continue to stand by Ukraine's defense," Shapps posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Which is why today we are sending hundreds of air defense missiles to restock British gifted air defense systems capable of striking down Russian drones and missiles with incredible accuracy," he added, without providing further details.

Shapps called Russia’s latest attack on Ukraine "a desperate and futile attempt to regain momentum," urging the "free world to come together and redouble our efforts to get Ukraine what they need to win."

11:46 a.m. ET, December 29, 2023

Pregnant women and newborns narrowly escape harm from Russian strike at maternity hospital, officials say

From Svitlana Vlasova and Maria Kostenko

A view shows a maternity hospital ward damaged during a Russian missile strike in Dnipro, Ukraine, on Friday.
A view shows a maternity hospital ward damaged during a Russian missile strike in Dnipro, Ukraine, on Friday. Vitaliy Hnidyi/Reuters

Video from the Ukrainian city of Dnipro shows extensive damage to a maternity hospital after a Russian missile strike early Friday.

If the missile made impact even closer to the hospital — and had staff not responded quickly to air raid warnings — there would likely have been significant casualties, according to Ukrainian officials. Twelve pregnant women and four newborn babies were not harmed.

Medical staff at the hospital moved all the patients to a shelter as soon as air raid alarms sounded, said Serhii Lysak, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk region military administration.

"Windows were smashed in the building and the ceilings were broken. But all the patients and medical staff are safe," said Iryna Kulbach, the head of the obstetrics department at the hospital.

"The war came right into our hospital rooms, into the labor and delivery rooms," Kulbach said. "We were waiting for the new year, new lives (to begin at) our maternity hospital. I think we will survive everything."

Lysak said an apartment building across the street from the hospital was badly damaged, but the family living there took shelter in a small corridor.

The father, who gave his name as Yevhen, said: “We were sitting here in the corner when the strike happened. My wife and my kid were very scared. I held their ears. Everything was just flying.”

Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov recounted the moment he heard about the hospital being struck.

"My heart almost stopped when the phone rang for the hundredth time and the voice on the other end said: 'They hit the maternity hospital with a missile,'" the mayor said. "Then the voice called back: 'Exhale. The missile went tangentially,'" he continued.

At least 30 people were wounded in the missile strikes on Dnipro Friday, according to Ukrainian officials. Twenty of them are in hospitals, and at least six people in Dnipro have been confirmed killed.

Dnipro is located along a major river in central Ukraine and is one of the country's largest industrial cities.

10:48 a.m. ET, December 29, 2023

More bodies found in Kyiv after Russian missile strikes, mayor says

From Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv

Three more bodies have been recovered from the wreckage of a warehouse struck by a Russian missile early Friday, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

The warehouse was in the Shevchenkivskyi district of the city.

Kyiv's death toll from the attack has risen to seven, Klitschko said on Telegram.

10:31 a.m. ET, December 29, 2023

Leading figure in Ukrainian basketball killed in Russian missile attacks, according to officials

From Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

One of Ukraine's most celebrated basketball players and coaches was killed in the Russian missile attacks early Friday, Ukrainian officials said.

Viktor Kobzystyi — who played for Ukraine twice in the European Championships, then became a leading coach who twice won the Ukrainian national championship — was killed in Lviv, according to the Basketball Federation of Ukraine.

Anton Nikulin, an official on the Lviv City Council, also confirmed Kobzystyi’s death.

In a six-hour period early Friday, Russia targeted the western city of Lviv with at least 15 missiles and 14 drones, according to Maksym Kozytskyi, the head of Lviv region military administration. Ten of the missiles were intercepted.

At least 17 people, including one child, were wounded, and five people were hospitalized in Lviv, officials said.

10:21 a.m. ET, December 29, 2023

Poland says "unidentified object" flew into its territory from Ukraine early Friday

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris, Maria Kostenko and Tim Lister

In the early hours of Friday, “an unidentified airborne object” entered Polish airspace from Ukrainian territory, the Polish military said.

“From the moment it crossed the border until the signal disappeared, it was observed by the radars of the country's air defense system,” Poland’s Armed Forces Operational Command said.

Polish authorities provided no further details about the object.

Meanwhile, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on X, formerly Twitter, that he spoke to Polish President Andrzej Duda about the "missile incident."

“We will remain in contact as the facts are established. NATO remains vigilant,” he said. 

Remember: In November 2022, a missile struck Polish territory near the village of Przewodow, close to the border with Ukraine. Two people were killed. US officials later determined it was a Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile.

10:35 a.m. ET, December 29, 2023

European leaders pledge to support Ukraine in face of Russian aggression

From CNN staff

In this November 4 photo, Ursula von der Leyen and Volodymyr Zelenskyi speak during joint press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine.
In this November 4 photo, Ursula von der Leyen and Volodymyr Zelenskyi speak during joint press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. Andriy Zhyhaylo/Obozrevatel/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

Following Russia's massive air assault, European officials vowed to stand with Ukraine for the long run.

Here's what some of them are saying:

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU will continue to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

She said: “We have stood by Ukraine since day one of Russia's war of aggression. With almost €85 billion ($94 billion) in financial, humanitarian and military support.”

“We will keep supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes. And now we are opening the door to the EU to our friend and neighbour,” von der Leyen said.

The latest proposed package of EU aid to Ukraine was blocked by Hungary earlier this month, but a majority of members are exploring the use of different mechanisms to continue providing financial assistance to Ukraine.

After an EU summit this month, von der Leyen said, “We are working very hard of course to have a result where there is an agreement of 27 member states.”

“Work on potential alternatives” was also underway in case unanimity could not be reached, she added.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the latest widespread Russian attacks on Ukraine show that Russian President Vladimir Putin "will stop at nothing" to achieve his goal of "eradicating freedom and democracy."

"We will not let him win," Sunak said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "We must continue to stand with Ukraine – for as long as it takes," he added. 

Sunak was responding to a post on X by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he said Friday that "Russia used nearly every type of weapon in its arsenal" to launch attacks, targeting a maternity ward, educational facilities, a shopping mall, multi-story residential buildings, private homes and other structures. 

Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, echoed that the European Union would stand with Ukraine for "as long as it takes."

“Overnight, Russia launched one of the largest attacks since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine against cities and the population. It was yet another cowardly and indiscriminate targeting of schools, a metro station and a hospital," he wrote on X.

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs condemned Russia's "strategy of terror in Ukraine."

In a statement Friday, the ministry said: "Russia is pursuing its strategy of terror aimed at destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in order to undermine the resilience of the Ukrainian population in this second winter of the conflict."

France pledged its continued support to Ukraine, promising to provide the war-torn country "with the necessary assistance to enable it to exercise its legitimate defence." 

Moldova's President Maia Sandu said Friday that Russia's latest attack on Ukraine "underscores the urgent need" to boost Ukraine's air defenses. 

"Deeply disturbed by Russia's massive air attack on Ukrainian cities today. My thoughts are with all those affected this morning and every day of this brutal war," Sandu said in a post.

"Today's aggression underscores the urgent need to bolster Ukraine's air defense capabilities to protect lives," she added. 

9:55 a.m. ET, December 29, 2023

Russia carried out 50 group strikes and 1 mass strike this week, defense ministry says

From CNN's Maria Kostenko, Victoria Butenko and Svitlana Vlasova in Kyiv and Darya Tarasova

Without referring directly to the strikes early Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said the Russian forces carried out 50 group strikes and one mass strike this week.

"In the period from December 23 to 29 this year, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation carried out 50 group strikes and one mass strike with high-precision weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles” on military targets in Ukraine, it said.