Dozens of explosions have rocked cities across Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, in an intensification of Russia’s attacks that could spell a major escalation in the nearly eight-month war.
“This morning, 75 missiles were launched. 41 of them were neutralised by our air defence,” General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, wrote on Twitter on Monday.
The barrage of strikes killed several civilians in Kyiv, according to initial reports by Ukrainian officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country had launched long-range missiles against Ukrainian energy, military and communications infrastructure, in retaliation for an attack on the bridge linking Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula on Saturday.
“A number of terrorist acts have taken place against energy sites, against gas infrastructure, including one undermining the transport system,” Putin said as he chaired a meeting of the national Security Council. “It is not possible not to respond.”
“If such attempts continue there will be responses that will be harsh and correspond to the level of threats made against the Russian federation,” he added.
After the first early morning strikes in Kyiv, more loud explosions were reported in a number of other locations, including the western city of Lviv, near the border with Poland, as well as the city of Dnipro, closer to the front lines in the east.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia is “trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth”.
The strikes came as the Kremlin reels from humiliating battlefield setbacks amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent weeks.
How bad was Kyiv hit?
Kyiv city police said at least five people had been killed and 12 wounded in the capital, while a preliminary announcement by Rostyslav Smirnov, an adviser to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, said at least eight people were killed and 24 were wounded in just one of the strikes in the city.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Kyiv, said the death toll was “very likely to go up considerably”.
“Kyiv hasn’t experienced anything like this in months; people stopped paying attention to the air raid sirens, so it’s a very, very different reality this morning,” he added.
The blasts took place in the Shevchenko district, a large area in the centre of Kyiv that includes the historic old town as well as several government offices, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
At one of Kyiv’s busiest road junctions, a massive crater had been blown in the intersection. Cars were destroyed, buildings were damaged and emergency workers were on the scene. Two cars and a van near the crater were wrecked, blacked and pitted from shrapnel.
Residents were seen on the streets with blood on their clothes and hands. A young man wearing a blue jacket sat on the ground as a medic wrapped a bandage around his head. A woman with bandages wrapped around her head had blood all over the front of her blouse. Several cars were also damaged or completely destroyed. Air raid sirens sounded repeatedly across the country.
The Kyiv metro stopped running as people took shelter in its stations. Power and water supplies were knocked out in numerous areas.
What happened elsewhere?
Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials said Russia targeted civilian areas and energy infrastructure as air raid sirens sounded in every region of Ukraine, except Russia-annexed Crimea, for four straight hours.
Ukrainian media also reported explosions in a number of other locations, including Lviv, Kharkiv, Ternopil, Khmelnytskyi, Zhytomyr and Kropyvnytskyi.
Kharkiv was hit three times, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. The strikes knocked out the electricity and water supply.
Energy infrastructure was also hit in Lviv, Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said.
What might have prompted the escalation?
The hits came a day after Putin called the explosion on the Kerch Bridge to Crimea a “terrorist act” carried out by Ukrainian special services.
The strategic military supply line and emblem of Moscow’s claims on Crimea was partially destroyed. The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, called it “an act of war”.
Commentators on Russian television called for retaliation against Ukraine as Russia’s military leadership faced increasing public criticism for the first time following setbacks on the battlefield.
Russia’s Security Council was scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss the incident. Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said before the meeting that Russia should kill the “terrorists” responsible for the attack.
“Russia can only respond to this crime by directly killing terrorists, as is the custom elsewhere in the world. This is what Russian citizens expect,” he was quoted as saying by the state news agency TASS.
Monday’s strikes also came days after Putin appointed General Sergey Surovikin to lead the war effort in Ukraine, following the sacking of two senior Russian military commanders.
The general is known for being totally “ruthless” in the Russian military, according to a report by the Jamestown Foundation, a US defence policy think-tank.
Is Russia losing the war in Ukraine?
Russia has faced major setbacks on the battlefield since the start of September, with Ukrainian forces bursting through the front lines and recapturing territory in the northeast and the south.
Thousands of Russian soldiers retreated from the eastern front-line area in recent days, leaving behind major destruction. Bomb craters, burned-out vehicles and corpses were strewn along roads leading towards the eastern front.
Ukrainian forces last week achieved their biggest breakthrough in the country’s south since the war began on February 24, bursting through Russian defences and advancing rapidly along the Dnieper River, threatening supply lines for thousands of Russian troops.
Western weaponry has helped the Ukraine military win back more territory in the past month than Russian forces seized in five months.
Putin responded to the losses by ordering a mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of occupied territory and threatening repeatedly to use nuclear weapons.
Amid reports of ineligible men being called up for the draft, Russia’s first public mobilisation since World War II stoked public anger and triggered a string of rare criticism among Putin’s allies.