Russia attacks Kyiv and several Ukrainian cities; many dead

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russia on Monday unleashed a deadly spate of strikes against several Ukrainian cities, demolishing civilian targets including downtown Kyiv, where at least eight people were killed amid burned cars and demolished buildings, restating the grim reality war came into focus after months of détente in the capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24, said the attacks were in retaliation for what he called Kiev’s “terrorist” actions – a reference to Ukraine’s attempts to repel Moscow’s invading forces and theirs to paralyze supply lines.

Among the actions he was referring to is an attack last weekend on a key bridge between Russia and the annexed peninsula of Crimea, which the Kremlin treasures.

The intense, hour-long attack marked a sudden military escalation by Moscow in its assault on Ukraine. It came a day after Putin described Saturday’s explosion on the giant bridge linking Russia with the annexed territory of Crimea as an “act of terrorism” directed by Ukrainian special services.

According to preliminary information, at least eight people were killed and 24 injured in just one of the strikes in Kyiv, said Rostyslav Smirnov, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.

Putin said in a video call with members of the Russian Security Council that the Russian military has used “precision weapons” from the air, sea and ground to attack key energy and military command facilities.

The rocket attacks were the largest and most widespread Russian attack in months. Putin, whose partial mobilization order earlier this month sparked an exodus of hundreds of thousands of fighting-age men from Russia, came close to imposing martial law or launching a counter-terrorism operation, as many had expected.

But the continued barrage of major cities hit residential areas and critical infrastructure alike, suggesting a major uptick in war amid a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive in recent weeks and raising questions about how “precise” Russia’s targets are.

Moscow’s war in Ukraine is nearing its eight-month milestone, and the Kremlin is suffering humiliating battlefield setbacks in areas of eastern Ukraine it is attempting to annex.

The blasts occurred in the capital’s Shevchenko district, a large area in central Kyiv that includes the historic old town as well as several government offices, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

Some of the strikes took place near the government district in the symbolic heart of the capital, where the parliament and other important sights are located. A glass tower containing offices suffered extensive damage, with most of its blue-tinted windows blown out.

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces had fired dozens of missiles and Iranian-made drones into Ukraine.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said 75 missiles were fired at Ukrainian targets, 41 of which were neutralized by air defenses.

The targets are civilian areas and power plants in ten cities, Zelenskyj said in a video speech. “(The Russians) intentionally chose such timing and targets to do the most damage,” Zelenskyy said.

The morning strikes sent Kiev residents into air raid shelters for the first time in months. The city’s subway system halted train service, making the stations available again as havens.

While air raid sirens rang out in Ukraine’s major cities across the country throughout the war, in Kyiv and other areas that have enjoyed months of quiet, many Ukrainians began to ignore their warnings and go about their normal business.

That changed on Monday morning. The attacks hit Kyiv at the start of the morning rush hour, when commuter traffic began to increase. At least one of the vehicles hit near Kyiv National University appeared to be a commuter minibus known as a “marshrutka,” a popular if often crowded alternative to the city’s bus and metro lines .

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

Among the targets hit was a pedestrian bridge known as the Klitschko Bridge – a landmark in central Kyiv with its glass panes. Closed-circuit television video footage shared by an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister showed a massive explosion as the bridge appeared to be under attack. A man seen on the bridge just before the explosion runs away after the explosion.

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

Elsewhere, Russia targeted civilian areas and energy infrastructure, while air raid sirens rang out for four hours in all regions of Ukraine except Russia-annexed Crimea.

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

Ukrainian media also reported explosions in several other locations, including the western city of Lviv, which was a haven for many people from the fighting in the east, as well as Kharkiv, Ternopil, Khmelnytskyi, Zhytomyr and Kropyvnytskyi.

Kharkiv was hit three times, said Mayor Ihor Terekhov. The strikes paralyzed electricity and water supplies. The energy infrastructure in Lviv is also affected, said regional governor Maksym Kozytskyi.

Three cruise missiles fired by Russian ships in the Black Sea against Ukraine crossed Moldova’s airspace, the country’s foreign minister, Nicu Popescu, lamented.

A day earlier, Putin had described the attack on the Kerch Bridge to Crimea as an act of terrorism by Ukrainian secret services. At a meeting on Sunday with the head of Russia’s investigative committee, Putin said, “There is no doubt that this was an act of terrorism aimed at destroying critical civilian infrastructure.”

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

Amid the attack, Zelenskyy said in his Telegram account that Russia is “trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth.”

The attacks appeared poised to bring a new bout of international condemnation for Russia.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said the Group of Seven industrial powerhouses will hold a video conference on the situation on Tuesday, which Zelenskyy will address. Germany is currently chairing the G-7.

The attacks unleashed a chorus of outrage in Europe. French President Emanuel Macron expressed “extreme concern as the attacks have caused civilian casualties” and renewed his pledge to increase military aid to Ukraine.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly tweeted that “Russia’s launching of missiles into civilian areas of Ukraine is unacceptable”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba cut short his trip to Africa and returned to Ukraine. He tweeted that the attacks constituted “terror against peaceful Ukrainian cities.”

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

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced in an ominous move Monday that he and Putin have agreed to deploy a joint “regional force grouping” amid escalating fighting in Ukraine. He did not provide any information about where the group will be used, when and for what.

Lukashenko reiterated his claims that Ukraine was planning an attack on Belarus and stoked fears that Minsk is setting the stage for preemptive action. Russia attacks Kyiv and several Ukrainian cities; many dead

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