Russia launched a lethal wave of missile and drone strikes Monday on cities across Ukraine in what Russian President Vladimir Putin said was punishment for the partial destruction of a key bridge connecting his country to occupied Crimea.
Missiles slammed into a park and hit near a university in the heart of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv during morning rush hour in a city that has only recently started functioning like something close to its prewar normal. At least eight people were killed and 24 were injured in the most ferocious strikes on the capital since the first days of the Russian invasion, which began more than seven months ago.
One missile just missed a glass-bottomed pedestrian bridge that connects two neighbourhoods in the city centre, while another hit a children’s playground in the city’s main Shevchenko Park. The main railway station also sustained minor damage, and many residents of the city, which had a prewar population of almost 3 million, spent the day in underground shelters.
Civilian infrastructure, including electricity, water and phone services, was also a key Russian target on Monday, as it often has been in recent weeks. The power supply was knocked out in major cities including Kharkiv and Lviv.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called the barrage “another unacceptable escalation of the war.”
The Ukrainian military said 84 missiles had been fired at the country on Monday, 43 of which were shot down by the country’s air defences. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said “dozens” of the attacks involved Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones.
Mr. Zelensky said he would take part in a call with leaders of the Group of Seven Western democracies on Tuesday, during which he is expected to ask for more advanced air-defence systems.
U.S President Joe Biden held a call with Mr. Zelensky on Monday and “pledged to continue providing Ukraine with the support needed to defend itself, including advanced air defence systems,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “appalled” by Monday’s attacks. “We are committed to holding the Russian regime to account, and to supporting Ukraine – including with continued military assistance,” he said in a statement.
The Canadian Embassy in Kyiv sent an e-mail warning Canadians in the country to “shelter in a secure place until it’s safe for you to leave.” Ambassador Larisa Galadza said in a tweet that all embassy staff – “Canadians and local – are safe and accounted for.”
Explosions were also reported in the cities of Zaporizhzhia, in the south of the country, Dnipro and Kremenchuk, in the centre, and in Ternopil and Zhytomyr in the west. Nationwide, at least 19 people were killed and 105 were injured in the attacks – a toll that was expected to rise.
Hot water supplies and mobile phone networks were also disrupted in several parts of the country. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had “paused” aid operations because of the intensity of the attacks. At least one other humanitarian organization made the same decision.
“We cannot aid vulnerable communities when our aid workers are hiding from a barrage of bombs and in fear of repeated attacks,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Mr. Zelensky said the Russian barrage had two objectives – to destroy Ukraine’s energy grid, and to kill as many people as possible. “They enemy wants us to be afraid, wants to make people run. But we can only run forward, and we demonstrate this on the battlefield,” he said in a video address, referring to a recent Ukrainian counteroffensive that has retaken large swathes of territory that had been occupied since early in the conflict. “Please stay in shelters today. Thanks to the help of our military, everything will be fine.”
Russia launched its attacks almost precisely 48 hours after a massive explosion destroyed part of the Crimean Bridge, a US$3.7-billion project that was completed in 2019 and is seen as a symbol of Mr. Putin’s legacy, the centrepiece of which is his 2014 move to illegally seize and annex Crimea from Ukraine.
Ukraine has not claimed the attack on the bridge, in which three people were killed, but it was publicly celebrated by several senior officials, including Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security Council, who hinted the explosion was timed to coincide with Mr. Putin’s 70th birthday on Friday.
It’s unclear what caused the blast that destroyed the bridge’s two westbound lanes, causing them to collapse into the water, though videos showed a massive fireball that erupted just as a white truck was crossing over an elevated section of the structure. The overhead rail line was also badly damaged.
Speaking Monday to a special session of his own country’s Security Council, Mr. Putin said the strikes on what he said were military, communications and energy targets across Ukraine were a direct response to the attack on the bridge to Crimea. “If attempts to carry out terrorist attacks continue, Russia’s response will be severe and at the level of the threats facing it. Nobody should be in any doubt,” he said in remarks carried by Russian state television.
Following the damage to the bridge on Saturday, Mr. Putin named Colonel-General Sergey Surovikin as the new commander of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Gen. Surovikin is infamous for heading Russia’s war in Syria, including a campaign of brutal airstrikes that devastated much of the city of Aleppo.
In another potentially ominous development, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday that his country was forming a “joint military group” with Russia in response to what he said were Ukrainian plans to launch an attack on Belarus.
Russia has repeatedly launched attacks on Ukraine through Belarusian soil, but Mr. Lukashenko has thus far resisted Kremlin pressure to directly join the fighting.