By Dan Peleschuk and Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) -Russia fired scores of missiles into Ukraine early on Thursday, targeting Kyiv and other cities including Lviv in the west and Odesa in the southwest, sending people rushing to shelters and knocking out power in one of Moscow's largest aerial assaults.
"Senseless barbarism. These are the only words that come to mind seeing Russia launch another missile barrage at peaceful Ukrainian cities ahead of New Year," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine's military said it had shot down 54 missiles out of 69 launched by Russia. Air raid sirens rang out across Ukraine - for five hours in the capital Kyiv. Officials had earlier said more than 120 missiles were fired during the assault.
Reuters footage showed emergency workers pouring through the smouldering wreckage of residential homes in Kyiv destroyed by a blast and smoke trails of missiles in the sky.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, firefighters worked to extinguish a large blaze at an electricity station. In the southern central city of Zaporizhzhia, houses were damaged and a missile left a huge crater.
"I woke up to everything shaking, crumbling. I got up and screamed, 'Vitia, Vitia (my husband), where are you?' I ran barefoot on glass. He appeared and glass was falling off him," said 60-year-old local resident Halyna.
Ukraine's military said Russia had launched air and sea-based cruise missiles, and anti-aircraft missiles at energy infrastructure facilities in eastern, central, western and southern regions. The attacks followed an overnight assault by "kamikaze" drones.
More than 18 residential buildings and 10 critical infrastructure installations were destroyed in the latest attacks, the defence ministry said in a statement.
Waves of Russian air strikes in recent months targeting energy infrastructure have left millions without power and heating in often freezing temperatures.
'SKILL AND EFFICIENCY'
"The enemy placed a high stake on this attack, preparing for it for two weeks. Ukrainian air defence forces demonstrated an incredible level of skill and efficiency," Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on the Telegram messaging app.
Emergency shutdowns of power could be applied in some areas to avoid accidents in the networks, Shmyhal said.
Kyiv authorities said two private houses in Darnytskyi district were damaged by the fragments of downed missiles and a business and a playground were also damaged. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said 16 missiles were shot down and three people injured in the attacks.
The mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, said on Telegram that 90% of his city near the Polish border was without electricity. The missiles damaged an energy infrastructure unit.
In the Odesa region, the fragments of one missile hit a residential building, though no casualties were reported, its governor Maksym Marchenko said.
Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians, but Ukraine says its daily bombardment is destroying cities, towns, and the country's power, medical and other infrastructure.
For months Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has asked Western countries for further air defence help. The United States last week announced nearly $2 billion in more military aid, including the Patriot Air Defense System, which offers protection against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles.
Belarus protested on Thursday to Ukraine's ambassador after saying it had downed a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile. TV footage released by Belarus' state-run BelTA news agency showed what looked like missile debris in a field. A Ukrainian military spokesman in effect acknowledged that the missile was a Ukrainian stray, saying the incident was "nothing strange, a result of air defence" and something that "has happened more than once".
Ukraine's defence ministry said it was ready to invite authoritative experts from countries that do not support "the terrorist state of Russia" to participate in an investigation.
"The worst of it is that peaceful people have suffered again," a ministry statement said, citing Russia's bombardment.
In Russia, a regional governor said air defences had shot down a drone near the Engels air force base, hundreds of kilometres from the frontlines in Ukraine and home to long-range strategic bombers. Russia says Ukraine has already tried to attack the base twice this month.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what President Vladimir Putin calls a "special military operation" to demilitarize its neighbour. Ukraine and its Western allies have denounced Russia's actions as an imperialist-style land grab.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Zelenskiy's idea of driving Russia out of eastern Ukraine and Crimea with Western help and getting Moscow to pay damages is "an illusion", the RIA news agency reported.
There is still no prospect of talks to end the war.
Zelenskiy is pushing a 10-point peace plan that envisages Russia respecting Ukraine's territorial integrity and pulling out all its troops.
(Additional reporting by Reuters TV team in Zaporizhzhia and by other Reuters bureaux; Writing by Alexandra Hudson, Nick Macfie and Grant McCool; Editing by Gareth Jones)