KYIV, Ukraine — A series of blasts rocked the capital, Kyiv, and other major Ukrainian cities when they were hit Monday morning by a barrage of Russian missiles that President Vladimir Putin described as punishment for an explosion Saturday on the Crimean Bridge.
In Moscow, where he convened a meeting of his Security Council, Putin boasted of a “massive strike” using high-precision weapons in retaliation for the bridge explosion, and he warned of further strikes if Ukraine continued to hit Russian targets.
“In the event of continued Ukrainian acts of terrorism on Russian territory, our response will be harsh and in terms of its scale will correspond to the level of threats,” Putin said.
The attack caused electricity outages and disrupted water supplies in cities across Ukraine. For a third night in the past week, a residential apartment building in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia was hit. In Kyiv, the missiles caused heavy explosions around 8:15 a.m., leaving vehicles in flames near Taras Shevchenko Park — on a road often jammed with rush-hour traffic.
At least 14 people were killed across the country, including five in Kyiv, and more than 95 were injured nationwide, according to Ukraine’s national emergency service.
The strikes came in waves, the first attack on the capital since June. But even when Russian forces were on the outskirts of Kyiv in the early months of the war, no attack hit so directly in the city center. Across the country, approximately 70 sites were damaged, including 29 critical infrastructure objects, such as power and heating stations, 35 private residential buildings and four high-rise buildings, said Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s national police chief.
Suddenly, the gleeful taunts that characterized Ukraine’s national elation over the fireball on the Crimean Bridge were replaced Monday by fury and outrage, charges of terrorism against Moscow, and redoubled resolve to overcome the aggression and defeat the invaders.
In a parallel to the first days of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video of him standing in the center of Kyiv, outside his presidential office, to address citizens.
“The morning is tough,” Zelensky said. “We are dealing with terrorists.”
“Always remember,” he added, “Ukraine existed before this enemy appeared, and Ukraine will exist after it.”
Russia’s strikes in the heart of the capital raised questions about the strength of Ukraine’s air defenses, which officials have been pushing Western countries to bolster through additional security assistance. Ukraine’s military reported that its air defenses knocked down 43 of the 83 missiles launched at the country on Monday.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said Kyiv was reaching out to its Western allies to organize a response to Monday’s strikes. “I am in constant contact with partners since early morning today to coordinate a resolute response to Russians attacks,” Kuleba posted on Twitter. “I am also interrupting my Africa tour and heading back to Ukraine immediately.”
Putin portrayed the strikes as direct retribution for Saturday’s attack on the bridge across the Kerch Strait, which has partially reopened, including to rail traffic. The Crimean Bridge is a strategic link between mainland Russia and Crimea and a symbol of Putin’s ambitions to annex Ukrainian territory.
But Russia has targeted critical infrastructure sites in Ukraine throughout the war. Kharkiv’s thermal power plant was hit with a missile last month. Russia has also repeatedly bombed nonmilitary targets including passenger rail stations, residential apartment blocks, hospitals, schools and theaters.
Attacks on civilian targets are illegal under international conventions on war.
Kyiv has not publicly claimed responsibility for the bridge explosion, but a Ukrainian government official told The Washington Post that Ukraine’s special services carried out the operation.
Putin blamed the attack on Ukraine. “There is no doubt that the attack was aimed at destroying critical civilian infrastructure of the Russian Federation,” Putin said in a video released by the Kremlin on Sunday. The 12-mile span, while used by civilians, is a crucial military logistics conduit for Russia’s military, the only direct road and rail route from mainland Russia to Crimea, which the Kremlin invaded and illegally annexed in 2014.
“And now the answer has arrived,” Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of state-owned channel RT, wrote on Twitter. “The Crimean bridge from the very beginning was that red line. It was obvious.”
Putin has been under pressure to up the ante in what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine after a succession of recent battlefield failures. In the past six weeks, Ukraine has routed Russian forces from the northeastern Kharkiv region and pushed them back in the eastern Donbas region and in the southern Kherson region.
Although hitting Kyiv might please Russian hard-liners who have been calling for more attacks on the capital, it will not reverse Russia’s core strategic problems, including losses of soldiers and equipment, flagging morale and repeated logistical failures.
The attacks followed Russia’s announcement Saturday that Gen. Sergei Surovikin had been named overall commander of the war in Ukraine. Surovikin is a veteran officer who led the Russian military expedition in Syria in 2017, which featured indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.
Moscow’s longtime proxy leader of Crimea hailed the barrage of strikes across Ukraine.
“Good news from the early morning: approaches to conducting the special military operation have changed,” the regional chief, Sergey Aksyonov, wrote on Telegram. “I’ve said from the first day of the operation that if such actions aimed at destroying the enemy’s infrastructure have been taken every day, then we would have finished everything in May and the Kyiv regime would have been defeated.”
“I hope that now the pace of the operation will not slow down,” Aksyonov said.
Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechnya region in the North Caucasus, said he is now “100 percent satisfied” with Moscow’s war strategy. Kadyrov has repeatedly called for an escalation of the war in Ukraine and has sent hundreds of fighters to the front lines.
Monday’s strikes shattered the sense of relative peace that Kyiv had experienced since April, when Ukrainian troops pushed Russian forces to retreat from the northern edges of the region.
About 90 minutes after the first explosions rocked the capital, emergency workers and military personnel were arrayed around an intersection that was hit in central Kyiv. The site is next to a major university complex and Taras Shevchenko Park, which is popular with families. One of the missiles landed in the park’s playground.
The burned-out hulls of several cars remained, and at least one body bag was visible on the pavement. Glass from shattered building windows littered the sidewalk.
Another missile hit a glass pedestrian bridge in downtown Kyiv that had been a popular site for tourists.
Russians are trying to make it "bridge for bridge"? pic.twitter.com/nwq8yqStFD— Ukrainska Pravda in English (@pravda_eng) October 10, 2022
Kyiv returned to somewhat normal life in the months since Russia failed to seize the capital and topple the government. People routinely ignored air-raid sirens while sitting at outdoor cafes and walking around town.
On Monday, subway stations in the capital again turned into bomb shelters.
The Vokzalna station, adjacent to Kyiv’s central railroad station, was crowded with hundreds of people several hours after the first strikes hit Kyiv, some of them carrying suitcases and even pets in small carriers.
Natalya Semenova, 70, was among those sheltering in the Vokzalna metro station. She got a call Monday morning from her son, who is serving in the Ukrainian military, informing her that Russian missiles were heading toward Kyiv and telling her to immediately seek shelter deep underground.
“I was just about to go to the basement but he insisted on me going to the metro station instead since it’s safer,” Semenova said.
In the western city of Lviv, a refuge for thousands of displaced Ukrainians because it is far from the front lines, missiles struck the power grid and knocked out electricity and hot water in some places, the mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, said on Twitter.
“They are trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth,” Zelensky said on Telegram. “Destroy our people who are sleeping at home in Zaporizhzhia. Kill people who go to work in Dnipro and Kyiv.”
Khurshudyan reported from Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, and Ilyushina from Riga, Latvia. Kostiantyn Khudov in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.