Russia unleashed a barrage of deadly attacks on cities across Ukraine on Monday, hitting the heart of the country’s capital as part of a wave of attacks on civilians and infrastructure not seen since the early days of the war. .
From Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the northeast, rockets ripped through rush hour traffic and into energy facilities, apparently in revenge for what the Kremlin called a “terrorist” explosion that damaged a major bridge to Crimea over the weekend.
After a series of humiliating setbacks that put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, the attacks suggested an escalation that showed Moscow retained the capacity to terrorize the Ukrainian population for the winter, if not defeat its military.
The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and other officials blamed Russia for the explosions that have disrupted months of relative calm in Kiev and beyond. At least 8 people were killed and 24 others injured in the capital, Ukrainian officials said.
NBC News has not verified the claims.
Ukrainian cities had been attacked by Russian missiles and drones targeting civilians and energy facilities across the country, Zelenskyy said in a recorded video.
“They want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system. They are hopeless,” he said, adding that the timing and targets of the attacks indicate Moscow “wanted to do as much damage as possible.”
Eleven “key infrastructures” were damaged in eight regions of the country and the capital, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said, adding that Ukrainians should be prepared for temporary interruptions in electricity and water supplies.
The explosions came hours after Putin accused Ukraine of “terrorism” after the bridge between Russia and annexed Crimea was severely damaged, in a massive explosion that dealt a strategic and symbolic blow to the Kremlin. Putin directly blamed Ukraine’s special services for the attack, but Kiev has not taken responsibility for the incident.
A series of battlefield failures and the chaotic call-up of hundreds of thousands of military reservists have led to mounting criticism of the Kremlin at home, with some prominent figures pushing for escalation in an attempt to reverse the course of the conflict.
After Putin’s comments on Sunday, Ukraine braced itself for retaliation that appeared to arrive the next morning.
NBC News heard a number of explosions in central Kiev early Monday. Smoke was seen from buildings, while images and videos verified by NBC News showed burnt cars and a crater near a playground in a city park. Residents were sent to seek shelter in underground subway stations, while air-raid sirens sounded in other major cities across the country.
Kiev mayor Vitalii Klitchko said the explosions took place in central Shevchenko, which is home to several key government buildings. Explosions have also been heard in the Solomyansky district in western Kiev, he said.
Klitschko later said the city’s critical infrastructure had been affected and there were an unidentified number of casualties. He begged the local residents to seek shelter and remain in place for fear of further attacks.
Rostislav Smirnov, an adviser to the interior minister, said in a Facebook post that at least 8 people have been killed and 24 injured in one of the capital’s districts.
Explosions were also reported in cities in central Ukraine and in the western part of the country, as regional governors and mayors across the country warned people to seek shelter. Five explosions were also heard in Kharkiv, northeast, by NBC News.
Army chief Valerii Zaluzhny said the Russian army launched at least 75 missiles on Monday morning, 41 of which had been intercepted.
The US Embassy in Kiev has issued a warning urging the Americans to take shelter on the ground and leave Ukraine by land transport when safe to do so, while US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, tweeted: “Russia is escalating its barrage of attacks on Ukrainian civilians.”
“On the 229th day they are trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.
His foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, called Putin “a terrorist who talks to missiles.” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov called for the country’s western allies to ramp up their offerings of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems as the best way to respond to what he said was “Russian missile terror”.
Putin, who this weekend appointed a new commander of his forces in Ukraine, is expected to give a meeting with the Russian Security Council later on Monday.
There has been no official response from Moscow so far, but Russian state media have covered the attacks extensively.
Daryna Mayer, Mariia Ulianovskac, Lawahez Jabaric and Artem Grudinino contributed.