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Kyiv residents on edge after strikes devastate civilian homes

Two attacks rocked residential areas in Kyiv on March 14, killing at least two people. Residents fear violence will only intensify as Russian forces close in. (Video: Jon Gerberg, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post, Photo: Heidi Levine for The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

KYIV, Ukraine — The sidewalks were covered in bits of glass and bloodstains. A green trolley car sat crumpled, a taxi smashed into its side. Next to a crushed car lay what appeared to be a body, covered by a piece of tarp.

In a park across the way, Irina Kostiuk, 38, stood staring at the scene, clutching her bleeding hand. She had been inside one of the buildings damaged in the Monday morning attack in Kyiv’s Podilskyi district, volunteering at a humanitarian aid center to help civilians with disabilities. Around 11 a.m., she heard a loud boom and felt the windows shatter.

“The shock wave knocked me off my feet, and glass debris got me a bit,” she said. “I was lying on the floor for a few minutes, waiting to see what happens next.”

City officials later described the attack as a missile or rocket strike that hit near a checkpoint close to residential buildings. It killed at least one person and wounded several others.

As at many other temporary checkpoints in the capital, the trolley car damaged in the attack had been serving as a barricade, dragged into the street to slow traffic.

The strike came only a few hours after apparent Russian shells struck a nine-story residential building in Kyiv’s Obolon district, at around 6 a.m. Residents fled the badly damaged building as firefighters tried to extinguish the flames and rescue those trapped inside. At least one person was killed in that incident as well, according to Red Cross volunteers at the scene.

The two attacks left residents in Kyiv on edge, with fears mounting that if Russian forces continue to close in on the capital, it could soon face immense damage and high civilian casualties, comparable to what has unfolded in the besieged cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol.

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By midmorning, the second building was no longer on fire, but the damage had rendered much of it unlivable. One area was badly burned. Most of the windows were shattered, exposing the apartments’ interiors to winter weather.

The broken windows offered views into lives that until Monday morning had been peaceful. Through one, a tapestry hanging on a wall fluttered in the wind. Through another, shelves of cassette tapes appeared untouched.

On one damaged balcony with a small Ukrainian flag planted on the ledge, several residents stood solemnly looking down at the journalists gathered below.

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Emergency workers helped evacuate residents and pets. One family clutched a pet turtle as they left the scene. Others went in and out of the destroyed building, carrying plastic bags of clothes and other belongings to their cars.

The strikes sparked fears over what could come next for the city. Kyiv has come under bombardment but so far has been spared the worst of the fighting seen elsewhere in northern and eastern Ukraine. Half of the city’s 4 million residents have fled, according to officials. Those who stayed are bracing for a Russian offensive to take the capital.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and key advisers have stayed, posting defiant videos of themselves there to rally Ukrainians. On Sunday, Zelensky visited a Kyiv hospital to award medals of honor to injured soldiers.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation,” despite evidence of such attacks verified by The Washington Post, among others.

Tamara Tylchik, 64, who lives around the corner from the buildings in Kurenivka that were badly damaged, stood staring in disbelief at the cordoned-off area on Monday.

“It’s a beautiful residential area,” she said. “I could never imagine in my worst nightmare that Russia would invade us.”

Volodymyr Borysovich, 54, stood to the side, gazing at the shattered balconies above.

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His friends Serhiy and Natalia and their daughter, Alina, who has disabilities, live on the building’s third floor. “Now they are not picking up their phone,” he said as he puffed anxiously on a cigarette.

The casualties in Kyiv on Monday added to the war’s devastating toll on civilians, who have borne the brunt of Russian bombardments, sieges and indiscriminate violence since the Feb. 24 invasion.

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Arkady Bogdnovych, 85, was in his kitchen when a blast shook his house. “It was like a huge wave,” he said.

An hour later, as his daughter helped clean up the glass from his destroyed windows, he stood outside surveying the damage. Even with the glass blown out, he said, he wouldn’t leave. “I’m not moving,” he said. “I want to stay here.”

But he pleaded for NATO to close the sky over Ukraine to prevent further airstrikes — a request that Zelensky has made repeatedly since the war began.

“If you would close the sky, we wouldn’t experience this,” he said.

Western officials fear that enforcing a no-fly zone, which would mean shooting down Russian planes, could turn into an all-out conflict between nuclear powers.

The United Nations has confirmed the deaths of more than 600 civilians thus far in Ukraine — though the actual count, it cautions, is probably much higher. Ukrainian officials say Russian attacks have killed thousands of people: Just in the port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, more than 1,500 people have died, according to its mayor.

Kostiuk, who had volunteered at the humanitarian organization whose office was damaged Monday, said she didn’t know why the area was struck.

“There were checkpoints here, and I guess our humanitarian office is also a strategic object. It’s hard to say,” she said.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who came to survey the scene, said in a video he posted that “this is what Russia’s war against civilians looks like: destroyed buildings, destroyed infrastructure.”

“Lives are getting lost,” he said. “That’s the war that Russia started.”

Hassan reported from London and Berger from Washington.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

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