Moscow said it shot down two Ukrainian missiles over southwestern Russia on Friday, including one that fell and exploded in a city center — apparently rare instances of Ukraine using such powerful weapons to attack targets inside Russia.
Coming as Ukraine, within its own borders, steps up its counteroffensive against the Russian invaders, the missile attacks could signal a more aggressive effort to expand a war that until now has brought death and destruction almost exclusively to Ukrainian territory.
Russian officials said one downed missile fell in the city of Taganrog, about 80 miles southeast of the nearest front lines, injuring at least nine people, none severely, and damaging some buildings, and that the other fell in “a deserted area” near the city of Azov, which lies some 25 miles farther from the fighting.
Video and photographs circulated by Russian state media and local outlets showed the aftermath of a blast in Taganrog, a port city on the Sea of Azov, including piles of rubble and blown-out windows and garage doors. The regional governor, Vasily Golubev, said the detonation hit near an art museum and a cafe in the city center.
Earlier Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had also shot down a drone aimed at the Moscow region.
On Friday evening, at least one missile strike in the city of Dnipro, in central Ukraine, damaged a high-rise apartment building and an office of the Ukrainian security service, and injuries were reported. “Russian missile terror again,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said on social media. He added, “These bastards will answer.”
Neither accepting nor denying responsibility for the explosions in Russia, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said that “everything happening in Russia, including Taganrog, is an unconditional consequence of the large-scale war initiated by Russia.”
A top Ukrainian security official, Oleksiy Danilov, in a statement said, “The events in Taganrog are nothing more than completely illiterate actions of the operators of Russian air defense systems.” But there was a hint of sarcasm in his statement, which seemed to deliberately echo the Kremlin denial of responsibility for a missile strike last weekend on a cathedral in Odesa, which it blamed on “illiterate actions of Ukrainian defense forces.”
Ukraine has usually declined to publicly confirm or deny attacks within Russia, which are unnerving to Kyiv’s Western allies, but officials sometimes acknowledge them on the condition of anonymity, or well after the fact.
Both sides reported continued heavy fighting in southern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have made piecemeal progress in the counteroffensive that began last month and intensified this week, advancing a few miles along two axes through daunting Russian defenses.
Kyiv hopes to punch through and get behind Russia’s network of minefields, bunkers, trenches and tank traps, where the occupation forces would be much more vulnerable, and drive a wedge through the territory seized by Moscow.
But a more immediate goal, Ukrainians say, is to penetrate deeply enough to get within artillery range of more Russian targets. The Western mobile rocket launchers like the American-made HIMARS, which were first supplied to Ukraine last year, took a heavy toll on Russian supply depots, command posts and concentrations of troops and vehicles far behind the front lines, forcing the Russians to move them dozens of miles farther back.
The United States has supplied satellite-guided HIMARS rockets with a range of about 50 miles, but Ukrainian forces have a limited number of the launchers and, in an effort to protect them, prefer to keep them some distance back from the front line, limiting their reach. Ukraine’s forces this year have acquired Western missiles with much longer ranges, but they are even fewer in number.
Kyiv’s commanders are eager to extend the reach of rocket artillery and conventional artillery. Ukraine hopes to push all the way to the Sea of Azov shore, cutting the “land bridge” from Russia to Russian-occupied Crimea, but an advance even part of that distance would put the entire width of the bridge within range of Ukrainian artillery. The only other road or rail connection Russia has to move troops and equipment in and out of Crimea is the Kerch Strait bridge, which Ukraine has attacked twice.
“The main task we face now, in addition to moving forward, is, of course, to weaken the enemy’s ability to defend itself,” Hanna Malyar, the deputy minister of defense, said on Ukrainian national television. “And in fact, this is what we are doing now.”
Brig. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavsky, the commander of Ukraine’s military fighting in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions, compared the counteroffensive to a boxing match, saying that Ukraine intends to strike with longer-range weapons to “hold the opponent at arm’s length” in order to avoid close combat. That represents something of a shift after the early days of the counteroffensive incurred heavy casualties and made little progress.
The United States and some of its allies, wary of being drawn directly into the war, have insisted that their weapons not be used to strike within Russia’s internationally recognized borders, though such attacks amount to a tiny fraction of those Russia has made in Ukraine.
For those attacks, Ukraine has used artillery, modified jet-powered surveillance drones left over from the Soviet era that were packed with explosives, bombs planted by people and new, lightweight aerial attack drones, which it has used to carry out several recent strikes in Moscow and other sites. Except for the jet drones, those are less destructive than the missiles that Russia said were used in Friday’s attack, which have warheads weighing several hundred pounds.
But missile attacks on Russia have been rare. In July 2022, Russia said that four civilians were killed after Russian air defenses shot down Ukrainian missiles over the city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border. Mr. Golubev said earlier this month that Russian air defenses had shot down a missile in the Rostov region, injuring no one.
The Russian defense ministry said both missiles it shot down on Friday were versions of the Soviet-era S-200 antiaircraft missile that had been modified to strike ground targets, a type of weapon that both sides have used since Russia’s full-scale invasion 17 months ago. Depending on the model, the S-200 has a range of up to 190 miles.
Air defenses have shot down many of the missiles fired in this war, so they have done little or no harm. But a number of times, missiles that were intercepted midair and missed their intended targets instead fell and did damage elsewhere. Russian officials did not say where the missiles were aimed on Friday, but Taganrog has two military airfields, as well as important port and industrial sites.
The Kremlin had little immediate comment on the attack. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said President Vladimir V. Putin was briefed on the incidents at a summit meeting with African leaders in St. Petersburg.
In Kyiv, Mr. Zelensky marked Ukraine’s Statehood Day with a speech reaffirming for his country an identity and history separate from Russia’s, which Mr. Putin has denied. The Ukrainian leader also took aim at a small but symbolic cultural division.
The Russian Orthodox Church is one of the few institutions in the world still using the old Julian calendar, so its Christmas, Dec. 25, falls on Jan. 7 in the Gregorian calendar that is used by most of the world. Orthodox churches in some other countries have switched to a calendar in line with the Gregorian.
The Orthodox church in Ukraine was part of the Russian Orthodox Church until a few years ago, when an independent Ukrainian church was established — and adopted the updated calendar. That created a schism, with a some priests and parishes following leaders in Kyiv and others — increasingly treated in Ukraine as a subversive element — still answering to the patriarch in Moscow.
Mr. Zelensky announced on Friday that Ukraine will now recognize Dec. 25 as Christmas.