KYIV, Ukraine — Russia unleashed a lethal barrage of strikes against multiple Ukrainian cities Monday, smashing civilian targets including downtown Kyiv, where at least six people were killed amid burnt-out cars and shattered buildings. The onslaught brought back into focus the grim reality of war after months of easing tensions in the capital.
Ukraine’s Emergency Service said at least 11 people were killed and 64 wounded across the country in the morning attacks — the biggest and broadest since the early days of the war. Though some missiles apparently targeted energy facilities, others struck civilian areas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin 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, including a weekend attack on a key bridge between Russia and the annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Putin vowed a “tough” and “proportionate” response should Ukraine carry out further attacks that threaten Russia’s security.
“No one should have any doubts about it,” he said.
Monday’s intense, hours-long assault marked a sudden military escalation in Russia’s assault on Ukraine. It came a day after Putin called the explosion Saturday on the huge bridge connecting Russia to its annexed territory of Crimea a “terrorist act” masterminded by Ukrainian special services.
Putin, speaking 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.
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.
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.
Moscow’s war in Ukraine is approaching its eight-month milestone, and the Kremlin has been reeling from humiliating battlefield setbacks in areas of eastern Ukraine it is trying to annex.
Blasts struck in the capital’s Shevchenko district, a large area in the center of the city 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.
Residents were seen on the streets with blood on their clothes and hands. A young man sat on the ground as a medic wrapped a bandage around his head. A woman with her head bandaged had blood all over the front of her blouse. Several cars were damaged or completely destroyed. Air raid sirens sounded repeatedly across the country and Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces launched dozens of missiles and Iranian-built drones against Ukraine.
The General Staff of the Ukraine Armed Forces said 75 missiles were fired against Ukrainian targets, with 41 of them neutralized by air defenses.
The targets were civilian areas and energy facilities in 10 cities, Zelenskyy said in a video address. The Russians “chose such a time and such targets on purpose to inflict the most damage,” Zelenskyy said.
The morning strikes sent Kyiv residents into bomb shelters for the first time in months. The city’s subway system stopped train services and again made the stations available as places for refuge.
While air raid sirens have continued throughout the war in cities across the country, in Kyiv and elsewhere many Ukrainians had begun to ignore their warnings after months of calm.
That changed on Monday morning. The attacks struck Kyiv at the start of the morning rush hour, when commuter traffic was beginning to pick up. At least one of the vehicles struck near the Kyiv National University appeared to be a commuter minibus, known as a “marshrutka,” a popular alternative to the city’s bus and metro routes.
Nearby, at least one strike landed in Shevchenko Park, leaving a large hole near a children’s playground.
Among the targets hit was the Klitschko pedestrian bridge — a landmark in central Kyiv with its glass panels. Closed-circuit television footage shared by an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister showed a huge explosion as the bridge was struck. A man was seen running away after the blast.
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.
The Ukraine Emergency Service said the strikes left four of the country’s regions — Lviv, Poltava, Sumy and Ternopil — completely without power, while in the rest of Ukraine power outages were patchy.
Associated Press journalists in Dnipro city saw the bodies of multiple people killed at an industrial site on the city’s outskirts. Four people were killed and 19 injured in the city, local officials said.
Witnesses said one missile landed in front of a bus during the morning rush hour. Despite heavy damage to the vehicle, officials said no passengers were killed.
Natalia Nesterenko, a mathematician, said she saw one missile fly by her Dnipro apartment balcony as she was working in her kitchen. Then she heard two explosions.
“It’s very dangerous. I immediately called my kids to see how they are because anyone can be hit. Women, children,” she said.
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.
Kharkiv was hit three times, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. The strikes knocked out the electricity and water supply. Energy infrastructure was also hit in Lviv, regional Gov. Maksym Kozytskyi said.
Three cruise missiles launched against Ukraine from Russian ships in the Black Sea crossed Moldova’s airspace, said the country’s foreign affairs minister, Nicu Popescu.
The Kerch Bridge to Crimea 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 12-mile (19-kilometer) -long bridge, the longest in Europe.
The attacks brought out a fresh bout of international condemnation of Russia.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said the Group of Seven industrial powers will hold a videoconference Tuesday on the situation which Zelenskyy will address. Germany currently chairs the G-7.
The attacks brought a chorus of outrage in Europe. French President Emanuel Macron expressed “extreme concern.” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly tweeted that “Russia’s firing of missiles into civilian areas of Ukraine is unacceptable.”
“Russia once again has shown to the world what it stands for. It is terror and brutality,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
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 would switch to online at least until the end of this week. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba broke off his Africa tour and headed back to Ukraine.
In an ominous move, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced Monday that he and Putin have agreed to deploy a joint “regional grouping of troops” amid the escalation of fighting in Ukraine. He offered no details.
Lukashenko repeated his claims that Ukraine is plotting an attack on Belarus, sparking fears the stage is being set for preemptive action by Minsk.
Sabra Ayres in Kyiv, Vasilisa Stepanenko in Kharkiv, and Justin Spike and Yesica Fisch in Dnipro, contributed to this story.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine