KYIV (Reuters): Russia struck cities across Ukraine during rush hour on Monday morning, killing civilians and destroying infrastructure in apparent revenge after President Vladimir Putin declared an explosion on the bridge to Crimea to be a terrorist attack.
Cruise missiles tore into busy intersections, parks and tourist sites in the centre of downtown Kyiv, with an intensity unseen even when Russian forces attempted to capture the capital early in the war.
Explosions were also reported in Lviv, Ternopil and Zhytomyr in Ukraine’s west, Dnipro and Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia in the south and Kharkiv in the east.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the rush hour attacks appeared to have been deliberately timed to kill people.
In Kyiv, the body of a man in jeans lay in a street at a major intersection, surrounded by flaming cars. In a park, a soldier cut through the clothes of a woman who lay in the grass to try to treat her wounds. Two other women were bleeding nearby.
A huge crater gaped next to a children’s playground in a central Kyiv park. The remains of an apparent missile were buried, smoking in the mud.
More volleys of missiles struck the capital again later in the morning. Pedestrians huddled for shelter at the entrance of Metro stations and inside parking garages.
By mid-morning, Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russia had fired 75 cruise missiles, and Ukraine’s air defences had shot down 41 of them. Kyiv city police said at least five people had been killed and 12 wounded in the capital.
Security camera footage posted online showed a cloud of shrapnel and flame engulfing a glass-bottomed footbridge across parkland in the city centre, one of Kyiv’s most popular tourist sites. The bridge appeared to have been empty at the time.
“They are trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth,” Zelenskiy said on the Telegram messaging app. “The air raid sirens do not subside throughout Ukraine. There are missiles hitting. Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded.”
He later said the strikes had two main targets: energy infrastructure, and people.
“Such a time and such targets were specially chosen to cause as much damage as possible.”
There was no immediate word from Moscow on what it was targetting. Russia denies deliberately targetting civilians.
Talks with missiles
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted: “Putin’s only tactic is terror on peaceful Ukrainian cities, but he will not break Ukraine down. This is also his response to all appeasers who want to talk with him about peace: Putin is a terrorist who talks with missiles.”
At one of Kyiv’s busiest road junctions, a massive crater had been blown in the intersection. Buildings were damaged and two cars and a van near the crater were completely wrecked, blacked and pitted from shrapnel.
Windows had been blown out of buildings at Kyiv’s main Taras Shevchenko University. National Guard troops in full combat gear and carrying assault rifles were lined up outside an education union building.
“The capital is under attack from Russian terrorists! The missiles hit objects in the city centre (in the Shevchenkivskyi district) and in the Solomyanskyi district. The air raids sirens are going off, and therefore the threat, continues,” mayor Vitali Klitschko posted on social media.
“The central streets of Kyiv have been blocked by law enforcement officers, rescue services are working.”
He later said important infrastructure had been hit.
The strikes came two days after an explosion damaged the only bridge over the Kerch Strait to the Crimea peninsula, which Putin on Sunday called “an act of terrorism aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure”.
“This was devised, carried out and ordered by the Ukrainian special services,” he said in a video on the Kremlin’s Telegram channel.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the blast on the bridge but has celebrated it. Senior Russian officials demanded a swift response from the Kremlin ahead of a meeting of Putin’s security council on Monday.
Commentators on Russian television have increasingly been calling for massive retaliation against Ukraine, with the military leadership facing public criticism for the first time as Russian forces have been beaten back on the battlefield.
The bridge, which Putin personally opened, is a major supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine and a symbol of Russia’s control of Crimea, the peninsula it proclaimed annexed after its troops seized it in 2014.
Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said ahead of the council meeting that Russia should kill the “terrorists” responsible for the attack.
“Russia can only respond to this crime by directly killing terrorists, as is the custom elsewhere in the world. This is what Russian citizens expect,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency TASS.
Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, said on Sunday a vehicle had exploded on the bridge, having travelled through Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, North Ossetia and Russia’s Krasnodar region.
In southeastern Ukraine, Russian shelling overnight destroyed another apartment building in the city of Zaporizhzhia, regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said early on Monday. At least one person died and five were injured in the attack, a city official said.
The pre-dawn strikes were the third Russian missile attack against apartment buildings in four days in the city, the Ukrainian-held capital of one of four partially occupied regions Russia claims to have annexed this month.
Russia has faced major setbacks on the battlefield since the start of September, with Ukrainian forces bursting through the front lines and recapturing territory in the northeast and the south.
Putin responded to the losses by ordering a mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of occupied territory and threatening repeatedly to use nuclear weapons.