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IAN BIRRELL: The day death rained from the sky: Putin’s ‘furious barrage’ of 84 missiles

The first blast erupted after 8am, sounding alarmingly loud and perilously close to my hotel. Then came a couple more, a long pause, then another burst of hideously familiar bangs, thumps and thuds.

These were the staccato sounds of war, a series of cruel explosions in the midst of a bustling city filled with commuters on their way to work.

A shocked man rushed past in the street, saying he had just passed a nearby building that had several floors missing.

Gaping holes appeared in roads and roofs, a bus was blasted apart, innocent people suddenly met their deaths.

For this was the Monday morning rush hour from hell as Vladimir Putin unleashed a furious barrage of missiles that rained down on cars, homes, offices and stations  across Ukraine.

KYIV: A medical worker runs past a car which has been blown up after a Russian attack on the capital

KYIV: A rescuer helps an injured woman at the site of shelling, which Vladimir Putin said he ordered in response to 'terrorist' attacks on Russia

KYIV: A rescuer helps an injured woman at the site of shelling, which Vladimir Putin said he ordered in response to ‘terrorist’ attacks on Russia

KYIV: Cars burn after Russian military strikes on cities across Ukraine as Putin takes revenge for the Crimea bridge blast

KYIV: Cars burn after Russian military strikes on cities across Ukraine as Putin takes revenge for the Crimea bridge blast

KYIV: Upset civilians watch on as they react to a partially destroyed office block after several Russian strikes hit the capital

KYIV: Upset civilians watch on as they react to a partially destroyed office block after several Russian strikes hit the capital

KYIV: Smoke rises over the city after a Russian missile strike on a day where Putin sought revenge

KYIV: Smoke rises over the city after a Russian missile strike on a day where Putin sought revenge

Harrowing images showed emergency workers trying to escort local residents and dogs

Harrowing images showed emergency workers trying to escort local residents and dogs

We must face fact that Nato may go to war with Russia 

Analysis by General Sir Richard Shirreff

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has failed. As Kyiv steadily takes back swathes of land in strategic southern Kherson and in the north east, Putin is resorting to desperate measures to save himself.

Following the destruction of the Kerch bridge to the Crimean peninsula – which Russia claims was Ukrainian ‘terrorism’ – yesterday saw Moscow launch brutal missile attacks against civilian targets, most fatally in the centre of Kyiv.

Meanwhile, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev gloated that this was just ‘the first episode’, signalling that the intensification of attacks could be the start of a further escalation in the war by the Kremlin.

Yet Putin will need a lot more manpower if he is to take on Ukraine’s military counteroffensive – and it may not be as simple as he would like the West to believe.

Bombardments like the ones seen this week will not bring Ukraine to its knees. They are simply not enough to change the battlefield dynamic and ensure that Russia is in the ascendant.

Russia's response came following the destruction of the Kerch bridge to the Crimean peninsula

Russia’s response came following the destruction of the Kerch bridge to the Crimean peninsula 

Nor does Putin have the artillery war chest to escalate the war with strikes alone. Rather, his aim is to destroy civilian morale. But as this week has shown, the opposite is the case: even as Ukraine’s cities suffer, the people’s morale is stronger than ever.

Ramping up the war will require mobilisation on an even larger scale and, even if Putin is able to force hordes of untrained men into a makeshift army, they will have scarcely any kit or weapons.

In a speech on September 21, Putin announced the mobilisation of 300,000 troops – Russia’s first since the Second World War.

The Kremlin would draft into uniform just ‘those who served in the armed forces and have certain military specialties’, he declared.

Even then, intelligence by Britain’s Ministry of Defence found that those soldiers would be provided with only ‘low-level initial training’, since the majority of military commanders had already been deployed to Ukraine. So conscription on an even larger scale would be chaos. Already we are seeing waves of recruits sent to the front line in trainers, because boots (like everything else in the Russian military) are in short supply. As the Ukrainian winter sets in, many of these unlucky conscripts might freeze to death before they see battle, contributing to a collapse in morale.

The toll of casualties will be immense and though we know Russians are prepared to endure pain, they are also not afraid of revolution.

Following the first mobilisation, Moscow’s local media has said as many as 700,000 civilians have fled.

KYIV: Firefighters attempt to put out blazes as a car burns following the missile strikes, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues

KYIV: Firefighters attempt to put out blazes as a car burns following the missile strikes, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues

This exodus would get worse should Putin escalate the war.

He is setting the conditions to make an enemy of his entire people. Now more than ever, the West has to ensure Ukraine has all the support it needs to fight. We must double down.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and his citizens will not blink in the face of this onslaught, and neither should we. We have to be prepared to ramp up our support to ensure that Moscow’s brutal assault is seen to fail spectacularly.

Putin and his media cronies are attempting to intimidate us by threatening to use nuclear weapons.

He has to understand that, if he ever resorted to this genocidal tactic, the response of the West would be unprecedented. Even Russia could not withstand such pain.

Nato leaders, and in particular US President Joe Biden, have to use every available channel to make the Kremlin grasp this.

In public, Mr Biden does not need to spell out his intentions. But the message has to be sent, and it has to be unmistakable.

Even then, I fear Putin is deranged enough to carry out his nuclear threats. I have been warning for years that we must prepare for the prospect of war with Russia.

So far, instead of investing in our armed forces, successive UK defence reviews have drained our strength – and strength is the only standpoint that Putin understands.

Britain’s leaders will need great courage and the support of our whole population. Although Ukraine is fighting back, a war between Nato countries and Russia remains a very real possibility.

General Sir Richard Shirreff is the former deputy supreme allied commander Europe

Launched from aircraft, drones and naval vessels, the lethal strikes exploded in a hail of terror as commuters headed to work in cities from Lviv in the west through to the second city of Kharkiv, 600 miles east beside the Russian border.

A second wave was fired later in the day as the Kremlin continued its diabolical slaughter, leaving sirens wailing and fearful citizens rushing back down to basements.

Ukraine claimed 84 missiles were launched, with 43 shot down. At least 14 people were confirmed dead and 97 wounded in attacks that damaged 117 buildings. These included six deaths and 51 injuries in Kyiv as the capital, home to three million people before the war, was hit for the first time since June.

‘Russia is trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth,’ said President Volodymyr Zelensky. ‘We are dealing with terrorists. They want panic and chaos. Today the whole world once again saw the true face of a terrorist state that is killing our people. Not only on the battlefield but also in peaceful cities.’

The strikes on more than 20 places mark a significant escalation of the eight-month war. Russia targeted civilian infrastructure by hitting electricity, heating and transport facilities and disrupting power and water supplies.

Putin admitted this was revenge for his latest humiliation in the disastrous invasion of Ukraine: the weekend attack on his beloved 12-mile road and rail bridge that links Russia to Crimea, the peninsular he annexed illegally in 2014.

Addressing a hastily arranged televised meeting of his security council, the Kremlin strongman accused Kyiv of carrying out ‘terrorist acts’ and pledged a ‘severe response’.

Attacking on such scale was intended to spread alarm and panic, smashing the sense of normality that has been slowly been returning to most cities away from the front as Russian forces retreat. Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of Putin and a former president, insisted Russia remained set on ‘the full dismantling of the political regime in Ukraine’.

So once again I found myself witnessing the callous actions of an evil dictator, who is facing mounting criticism from hardline allies after launching a catastrophic war based on the most absurd pretext.

Kyiv was hit seven times, with six cars bursting into flames as parks and even a playground were attacked. ‘It was very scary – glass was pouring down from above,’ said one man. ‘People were falling to the ground, crying and praying.’

The emergency services said more than 30 fires broke out.

One strike damaged the Klitschko pedestrian and bicycle bridge, a popular tourist spot on the banks of the Dnipro River that was opened only in May 2019.

In Sloviansk, close to the fighting on the Donbas frontline, several residents died in a strike on a house, including a young woman violinist whose body was hurled into a neighbour’s garden.

Officials in Dnipro – an industrial city of a million people in central Ukraine – said ten missiles were fired at the area, with four destroyed in the air. At least four people were killed, 19 injured and 80,000 left without electricity. Yet the sense of shock over such atrocities was fused with an unbowed spirit of defiance.

Putin claimed his missiles hit communications, energy and military facilities – but I found only the hideously-twisted wreckage of a bus and residential blocks with shattered windows. 

Two construction workers died in these attacks. The bus driver, doing his daily job of ferrying men and women to work, was rushed to hospital with terrible wounds. 

And there was the sadly-familiar sound of weary citizens sweeping up broken glass.

A stunned girl, perhaps eight years old, stared morosely through the hole in the side of her home that once held glass. Three jars of jam had somehow stayed intact.

In a broken tower block, 70-year-old Sofia showed me where she had been sleeping behind a curtain separating her bed from the living room when the windows exploded, leaving the smashed frame on her sofa surrounded by shards of glass.

‘I had to take drops to calm myself after seeing such things on television but when it happens to you, it is impossible to describe the horror,’ said the pensioner, a retired transport manager.

Her terror increased when she could not escape her flat after the blast jammed the front door. ‘What have we done to Putin that he does these awful things to us?,’ asked Sofia. ‘Why can’t the world stop him when so many people have died?’

Maxsym, 45, a truck driver before the war, was shaking and seemed on the brink of tears as he explained how he had come home for a short break from the front for his wife’s birthday. A bunch of pink roses sat on the floor of his home.

Daria, a 17-year-old college student, had been sleeping alone in her flat after her parents left for work. ‘I feel only hatred toward the people doing this,’ she told me. ‘How can this be happening in the 21st century?’ Her parents Iryna, a caterer, and Oleksandr, a builder, had come back home and looked utterly distraught as they stood in their bedroom surrounded by glass. 

They plan on moving to a safer place in nearby countryside amid fears of more attacks. Ordinary people living ordinary lives who suddenly saw their homes blown apart and all their family certainties bust in an instant – like so many Ukrainians I have met.  

Yet this distraught couple said the same words as Sofia, boiling the kettle for a cup of tea amid the chaos. So did Maxysm, preparing to go back to the front line with his limp to join his brother in uniform.

‘We will stand strong,’ said Iryna, 44. ‘We will fight back. There is a lot of anger and resistance.’

These determined words were echoed by Borys Filatov, the mayor of Dnipro, who declared last night: ‘There is no fear – only hatred and the desire to fight.’ 

Yet as darkness fell last night, bombs continued to explode as streets emptied again across the battered country. ‘We’re sitting in the basement, there are explosions above us, the windows are shaking,’ said Oksana, a mother of two young children, texting from Kremenchuk in central Ukraine.

Defiance: Daria, a 17-year-old college student, had been sleeping alone in her flat after her parents Iryna and Oleksandr went to work. They came back to their bedroom surrounded by glass

Defiance: Daria, a 17-year-old college student, had been sleeping alone in her flat after her parents Iryna and Oleksandr went to work. They came back to their bedroom surrounded by glass

CCTV footage captured the moment that the Klitschko footbridge in Kyiv was hit by a missile in Kyiv yesterday

CCTV footage captured the moment that the Klitschko footbridge in Kyiv was hit by a missile in Kyiv yesterday

A member of the Ukrainian military helps with search and rescue operations after Russian missile strikes on Kyiv today

A member of the Ukrainian military helps with search and rescue operations after Russian missile strikes on Kyiv today

Alarmingly, these strikes reflect the trademark of Sergey Surovikin, a bloodstained general infamous for his ruthlessness, who Putin has just appointed to lead his war effort amid rumbling discontent about its conduct.

Surovikin, who has been jailed for killing protesters and for illegal firearms trading, is a notorious butcher who oversaw the destruction of Aleppo in Syria and was involved in the crushing of Chechen cities.

Yet as one Ukrainian journalist told me, the Nazi blitz on British cities only strengthened citizen resolve.

Igor Lachenkov, a prominent blogger from Dnipro, said: ‘The Russians spent a huge amount of missiles attacking civilians which does not help them in terms of military advance but will only make Ukrainians even more angry. Russians can’t fight – they know only how to terrorise others.’

Additional reporting by Kate Baklitskaya

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