Police examine a destroyed car after a rocket attack on the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin on Monday threatened “more severe” attacks on Ukraine after Russian missiles rained down on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities in what Washington called “absolute brutality”.
The biggest wave of strikes across Ukraine in months has killed at least 11 and wounded more than 80 in response to an explosion this week that damaged a major bridge linking Russia to Moscow-annexed Crimea.
“There is no reason to doubt, if attempts at terrorist attacks continue, Russia’s response will be harsh,” Putin said in televised remarks to his Security Council.
Kyiv said Russian forces have fired more than 80 missiles at cities across the country and that Russia has also used Iranian drones launched from neighboring Belarus, causing panic and damaging energy facilities across Ukraine.
Putin’s predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, warned that the strikes were only the “first episode” of a response to an explosion on the Kerch bridge.
Russian invasion of Ukraine
But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the bombing showed Moscow was increasingly panicking about recent battlefield losses seven months after its invasion.
His country’s closest ally has criticized Russia, with US President Joe Biden saying the strikes “demonstrate the utter brutality” of Putin’s “illegal war”.
Ksenia Ryazantseva, a 39-year-old language teacher, told AFP she was woken up by the explosions.
“We saw smoke, then cars, and then we realized we didn’t have a window anymore,” she added. There is no military objective or anything like that here. They only kill civilians.”
– ‘Display vulnerability’ –
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the strikes were aimed at destroying Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and regional officials across the country confirmed widespread unrest.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that it targeted Ukraine’s energy, military command and communications facilities, claiming that the strikes were successful and “achieved their goals”.
A Ukrainian soldier looks out from a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer on the front line in the Donetsk region
Kuleba said the attacks were not “provoked” and that the attack was Moscow’s response to a series of embarrassing military losses in eastern Ukraine.
“Putin is desperate for defeats on the battlefield and is using missile terrorism in an attempt to turn the tempo of the war in his favour,” Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on social media.
Zelensky said he had spoken with the leaders of France and Germany and urged them to “increase pressure” on Russia.
– Dozens wounded –
Visiting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Twitter, he wrote: “We will continue to provide consistent economic, humanitarian, and security assistance so that Ukraine can defend itself and take care of its people.”
In Ukraine, the National Police Service said at least 11 people were killed nationwide and at least 80 injured.
A girl inspects a destroyed Russian tank near the village of Oskol in the Kharkiv region
Ukrainian officials said the Shevchenkivsky district in the city center was bombed, and a university, museums and a music building were damaged.
An AFP journalist in Kyiv said a shell landed near a stadium and saw smoke rising from a large crater at the site of the explosion. The blast burned the seats and chairs, and a number of ambulances were at the scene.
And in the western city of Lviv, Mayor Andrei Sadovyi said there were disruptions to electricity and hot water services after the bombing of vital infrastructure.
AFP photographers saw plumes of black smoke rising above the city skyline.
Moldova, in western Ukraine, said several Russian cruise missiles targeting Ukraine had crossed its airspace, and it had summoned Moscow’s envoy to demand an explanation.
The former Soviet country, a candidate to join the European Union, has a small breakaway region, Transnistria, which is armed and supported by Russia.
– Crimean bridge attack –
Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin, claimed on Monday that Ukraine was preparing to launch an attack on his country’s territory.
He said Russia and Belarus would deploy soldiers together, without specifying where.
The authoritarian leader also accused Ukraine, along with neighboring Poland and Lithuania, of training militants from Belarus to carry out attacks at home.
The strikes across Ukraine came a day after Moscow blamed Kyiv for the blast that destroyed a bridge linking Crimea to Russia, killing three people.
The explosion that hit the bridge – a symbol of the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea – sparked celebrations by Ukrainians and others on social media. But Zelensky on Saturday did not directly refer to the incident, nor did officials in Kyiv directly claim responsibility. 19 kilometers (12 miles) The bridge is also a vital supply link between Russia and annexed Crimea.