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Russia attacks Kiev and cities across Ukraine after attack on Crimean Bridge

KYIV, Ukraine — A series of blasts shook the capital Kiev 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 on Saturday’s Crimean Bridge.

In an attack that rivaled the day the Russian invasion began in February last year, the attacks targeted critical infrastructure in cities from Kharkov in the east to Lviv in the west. Rockets have also landed in central Kiev, causing civilians to flee for shelter.

In Moscow, where he convened a meeting of his Security Council, Putin boasted of a “mass attack” using high-precision weapons in retaliation for the bridge explosion, and warned of further strikes if Ukraine continued to hit Russian targets.

“In the event of continued Ukrainian acts of terror on Russian territory, our response will be tough and match the level of threats,” Putin said.

The attack caused power outages and disrupted water supplies in cities across Ukraine. A residential block of flats in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhya was hit for a third night in the past week. In Kiev, the rockets caused massive explosions around 8:15 a.m., causing vehicles to go up in flames near Taras Shevchenko Park — on a road often jammed with rush-hour traffic.

At least 14 people have been killed across the country, including five in Kiev, and more than 95 were injured across the country, according to the Ukrainian National Emergency Service.

The strikes came in waves, the first attack on the capital since June. But even when Russian troops were on the outskirts of Kiev in the early months of the war, no attack hit so directly in the city center. Across the country, about 70 sites were damaged, including 29 critical infrastructure objects, such as electricity and heating stations, 35 private residential buildings and four high-rise buildings, said Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s national police chief.

Suddenly, the gleeful derisions that characterized Ukraine’s national elation over the Crimean Bridge fireball were replaced on Monday with anger and outrage, accusations of terrorism against Moscow and redoubled determination to overcome the aggression and defeat the invaders.

Parallel to the early days of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video of him standing in the center of Kiev, outside his presidential office, addressing civilians.

“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 that.”

Russia’s attacks in the heart of the capital raised questions about the strength of Ukraine’s air defenses, which officials have urged Western countries to bolster through additional security assistance. The Ukrainian military reported that its air defenses shot down 43 of the 83 missiles launched on land on Monday.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kiev is contacting its Western allies to organize a response to Monday’s strikes. “I have been in constant contact with partners since the early morning of today to coordinate a resolute response to Russian attacks,” Kuleba wrote. on Twitter. “I am also interrupting my Africa tour and going back to Ukraine immediately.”

Putin portrayed the strikes as direct retaliation for Saturday’s attack on the Kerch Strait bridge, which has been 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 attacked critical infrastructure sites in Ukraine throughout the war. Kharkiv thermal power plant was hit by a missile last month. Russia has also repeatedly bombed non-military targets, including passenger train stations, apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and theaters.

Attacks on civilian targets are illegal under international treaties on war.

Kiev has not publicly claimed responsibility for the bridge explosion, but a Ukrainian government official told The Washington Post that Ukraine’s special services conducted the operation.

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Putin blamed Ukraine for the attack. “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, although used by civilians, is a crucial military logistics conduit for the Russian military, the only direct road and rail route from mainland Russia to Crimea, which invaded and illegally annexed the Kremlin in 2014.

“And now the answer has arrived,” Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state broadcaster RT, wrote on Twitter. “The Crimean Bridge was that red line from the start. It was clear.”

Putin has been under pressure to ramp up deployment in what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, following a succession of recent battlefield failures. Over the past six weeks, Ukraine has expelled Russian troops from the northeastern region of Kharkov and pushed them back into the eastern Donbas region and the southern Kherson region.

While hitting Kiev may please Russian hardliners who have called for more attacks on the capital, it will address Russia’s main strategic problems, including the loss of soldiers and equipment, declining morale and repeated logistical failures. don’t undo.

The attacks followed Russia’s announcement on Saturday that General Sergei Surovikin had been named general commander of the war in Ukraine. Surovikin is an experienced officer who led the Russian military expedition in Syria in 2017, which involved indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.

Moscow’s longtime proxy leader of Crimea praised the barrage of strikes in Ukraine.

“Good news from the early morning: the approach to conducting the special military operation has changed,” the regional chief, Sergey Aksyonov, wrote on Telegram. “I have said from the first day of the operation that if such actions, aimed at destroying the enemy’s infrastructure, were taken every day, we would have completed everything by May and the Kiev regime would have been defeated.”

“I hope the pace of the operation will not slow down now,” 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.

Monday’s strikes shattered the sense of relative peace Kiev had experienced since April, when Ukrainian forces forced Russian troops to withdraw from the region’s northern fringes.

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About 90 minutes after the initial explosions shook the capital, aid workers and military personnel lined up around a hit intersection in central Kiev. The site is next to a large university complex and Taras Shevchenko Park, which is popular with families. One of the rockets landed in the park’s playground.

The burnt-out hulls of several cars were left behind, and at least one body bag was visible on the sidewalk. Glass from shattered building windows was strewn on the sidewalk.

Another rocket hit a glass pedestrian bridge in central Kiev, which was a popular spot for tourists.

Kiev returned to somewhat normal live in the months since Russia failed to capture the capital and overthrow the government. People routinely ignored air raid sirens as they sat on sidewalk cafes and walked around the city.

On Monday, metro stations in the capital turned back into air raid shelters.

The Vokzalna station, adjacent to Kiev’s main railway station, was packed with hundreds of people, some with suitcases and even pets in small couriers, just hours after the first strikes hit Kiev.

Natalya Semenova, 70, was one of those who took shelter in the Vokzalna metro station. She received a call Monday morning from her son, who serves in the Ukrainian army, saying that Russian missiles were headed for Kiev and that she should immediately seek shelter deep underground.

“I was about to go to the basement, but he insisted that I go to the metro station instead, because it’s safer,” Semenova said.

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In the western city of Lviv, a refuge for thousands of displaced Ukrainians because it is far from the front lines, rockets hit the electricity grid and cut off 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 told Telegram. “Destroy our people sleeping at home in Zaporizhzhya. Kill people who go to work in Dnipro and Kiev.”

Khurshudyan reported from Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, and Ilyushina from Riga, Latvia. Kostiantyn Khudov in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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