Multiple Ukrainian cities targeted as Russia unleashes biggest attacks in months

WARNING: This story contains the image of a dead person

Russia unleashed a widespread and lethal barrage of strikes against multiple Ukrainian cities on Monday, smashing civilian targets, including downtown Kyiv, and killing at least 14 people. 

Ukraine’s Emergency Service said nearly 100 people were wounded in the morning rush-hour attacks that Russia launched from the air, sea and land against at least 14 regions, spanning from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east. Many of the attacks occurred far from the war’s front lines.

Though Russia said missiles targeted military and energy facilities, some struck civilian areas while people were heading to work and school. One hit a playground in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and another struck a university.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose military invaded neighbouring Ukraine on Feb. 24, said the strikes were in retaliation for what he called Kyiv’s “terrorist” actions — a reference to Ukraine’s attempts to repel Moscow’s invasion forces and cripple their supply lines.

The actions he referred to include an attack over the weekend on a key bridge between Russia and the annexed Crimean Peninsula, which is prized by the Kremlin.

Blasts were reported in Kyiv’s Shevchenko district, a large area in the centre of Ukraine’s capital that includes the historic old town, as well as several government offices. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

The attacks on Ukraine plunged much of the country into a blackout, depriving hundreds of thousands of people of electricity into Monday night and creating a shortage so severe that Ukrainian authorities asked people to conserve and announced they will stop power exports to Europe starting Tuesday.

Power outages also often deprive residents of water, given the system’s reliance on electricity to run pumps and other equipment.

Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the strikes had no “practical military sense” and that Russia’s goal was to cause a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Putin, speaking earlier in a video call with members of Russia’s Security Council, said the Russian military launched “precision weapons” from the air, sea and ground to target key energy and military command facilities.

Most widespread Russian attacks in months

The Russian president has been under intense domestic pressure to take more aggressive action to stop a largely successful Ukrainian counteroffensive and to react forcefully to Saturday’s attack on the Kerch Bridge, whose construction he used to cement his 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The missile strikes marked the biggest and most widespread Russian attacks in months. Putin, whose partial mobilization order earlier this month triggered an exodus of hundreds of thousands of men of fighting age from Russia, stopped short of declaring martial law or a counterterrorism operation, as many had expected.

But the sustained barrage on major cities hit residential areas and critical infrastructure facilities alike, portending a major surge in the war amid a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent weeks and raising questions about how “precise” Russia’s targeting is.

Following the attacks, Ukraine announced plans to halt electricity exports to Europe. “Today’s missile strikes, which hit the thermal generation and electrical substations, forced Ukraine to suspend electricity exports from Oct. 11, 2022 to stabilize its own energy system,” Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said in a statement on its website.

Herman Halushchenko, Ukraine’s energy minister, said the attacks on the electricity system were “the biggest during the entire war.”

Blasts in central Kyiv

The head of Ukraine’s law enforcement said Monday’s attacks damaged 70 infrastructure sites, of which 29 are critical. Zelenskyy said that of the 84 cruise missiles and 24 drones Russia fired, Ukrainian forces shot down 56.

Blasts struck in the capital’s Shevchenko district, a large area in the centre of Kyiv that includes the historic old town as well as several government offices, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

Some of the strikes hit near the government quarter in the symbolic heart of the capital, where parliament and other major landmarks are located. A glass tower housing offices was significantly damaged, most of its blue-tinted windows blown out.

A damaged tower block is shown at the scene of Russian shelling in Kyiv on Monday. Explosions rocked Kyiv early Monday following months of relative calm in the Ukrainian capital. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Residents were seen on the streets with blood on their clothes and hands. A young man wearing a blue jacket sat on the ground as a medic wrapped a bandage around his head. A woman with bandages wrapped around her head had blood all over the front of her blouse. Several cars were also damaged or completely destroyed. Air raid sirens sounded repeatedly across the country and in Kyiv.

Zelenskyy, in a video address, referred to the rush-hour timing of Monday’s attacks, saying Russia “chose such a time and such targets on purpose to inflict the most damage.”

Months of calm ended

While air raid sirens have continued throughout the war in Ukraine’s major cities across the country, in Kyiv and other areas where there have been months of calm, many Ukrainians had begun to ignore their warnings and go about their normal business.

WATCH | Russian missile strikes pound Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia: 

Russian missile strikes pound Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia

The city of Zaporizhzhia has been targeted by Russian missile strikes in recent days, the latest hitting homes and apartment complexes. Some believe it’s a response to an alleged Ukrainian attack on a strategic and politically important bridge linking Crimea and Russia.

That changed on Monday morning. At least one of the vehicles struck near the Kyiv National University appeared to be a commuter minibus, known as a “marshrutka” — a popular, albeit often crowded, alternative to the city’s bus and metro routes.

Nearby, at least one strike landed in the popular Shevchenko Park, leaving a large hole near a children’s playground.

Lesia Vasylenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, posted a photo on Twitter showing that at least one explosion occurred near the main building of the Kyiv National University in central Kyiv.

Elsewhere, Russia targeted civilian areas and energy infrastructure as air raid sirens sounded in every region of Ukraine, except Russia-annexed Crimea, for four straight hours.

Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday about getting Kyiv access to air defence systems and “equipment to tackle electricity supply challenges” in the wake of Russia’s latest attacks.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Zelenskyy also discussed air defences, the Ukrainian leader said late on Monday, calling such technology the “number one priority in our defence co-operation.” 

Several killed in Dnipro city

Associated Press journalists in Dnipro city saw the bodies of multiple people killed at an industrial site on the city’s outskirts. Windows in the area had been blown out and glass littered the street. A telecommunications building was hit.

Ukrainian media also reported explosions in a number of other locations, including the western city of Lviv, which has been a refuge for many people fleeing the fighting in the east, as well as in Kharkiv, Ternopil, Khmelnytskyi, Zhytomyr and Kropyvnytskyi.

The body of a dead person lies on the ground after Russian missile strikes in Kyiv on Monday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

The Kerch Bridge is important to Russia strategically, as a military supply line to its forces in Ukraine, and symbolically, as an emblem of its claims on Crimea. No one has claimed responsibility for damaging the 19-kilometre-long bridge, the longest in Europe.

Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. army forces in Europe, said the scale of the strikes on Monday suggested Russia’s plan to escalate may have been drawn up before the bridge was attacked.

Russia is ‘trying to destroy us,’ says Zelenskyy

Amid the onslaught, Zelenskyy said on his Telegram account that Russia is “trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the Earth.”

The attacks brought a chorus of outrage in Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “extreme concern.” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly tweeted that “Russia’s firing of missiles into civilian areas of Ukraine is unacceptable.”

WATCH | Defence expert sees Russia’s target of Ukrainian cities as escalation: 

Defence expert sees Russia’s target of Ukrainian cities as escalation

Former Canadian defence official Andrew Rasiulis calls the latest attacks in Ukraine an escalation of Russia’s war. He says the strikes have been far closer to the daily lives of Ukrainians than earlier attacks.

Biden said the attacks “killed and injured civilians and destroyed targets with no military purpose. They once again demonstrate the utter brutality of Mr. Putin’s illegal war on the Ukrainian people.” In a phone call later Monday, Biden told Zelenskyy that the United States agreed to his request to provide advanced air defence systems.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit, said the Group of Seven industrial powers will hold a video conference on Tuesday that Zelenskyy will address. Germany currently chairs the G-7.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed condolences to Zelenskyy on behalf of Canadians in a phone call on Monday, and he reiterated Canada’s commitment to the continued provision of military, economic, and humanitarian aid.

His office said Trudeau told Zelenskyy that “such egregious Russian attacks only strengthen Canada’s resolve to support Ukraine for as long as necessary.”

Some feared Monday’s attacks may just be the first salvo in a renewed Russian offensive. Ukraine’s Ministry of Education announced that all schools in Ukraine must switch to online classes at least until the end of this week.

In another sign of possible escalation, Putin’s closest ally, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, said on Monday he had ordered troops to deploy jointly with Russian forces near Ukraine, which he accused of planning attacks on Belarus with its Western backers.

Within Russia, the strikes were cheered by hawks. Ramzan Kadyrov, the staunchly pro-Kremlin leader of Russia’s Chechnya region who had demanded in recent days that military commanders be sacked, hailed Monday’s attacks: “Now I am 100 per cent satisfied with how the special military operation is being conducted.”

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