Russia unleashes missile barrage against Ukraine: What to know

Multiple explosions occur a day after the Kremlin accused Kyiv of ‘terrorism’ over the destruction of the Kerch bridge.

Ukrainian State Emergency Service shows a rescuer helping an injured woman at the site of shelling in Kyiv.
Ukrainian State Emergency Service help an injured woman at the site of shelling in Kyiv. [State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AFP]

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 Valerii Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

The barrage of strikes killed at least 11 people and wounded 64, Ukraine’s Emergency Service said. There were fears the death toll could rise.

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.

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 was “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.

One of Kyiv’s busiest road junctions was hit at the start of the morning rush hour, when commuter traffic was beginning to pick up. A massive crater was blown in the intersection. Cars were destroyed, buildings were damaged and emergency workers were on the scene.

At least one of the vehicles struck near the Kyiv National University appeared to be a commuter minibus, known as a “marshrutka,” which is a popular albeit often crowded alternative to the city’s bus and metro routes.

Nearby, at least one strike landed in the popular Shevchenko Park, leaving a large hole near a children’s playground.

Among the targets hit was a pedestrian bridge known as the Klitschko bridge — a landmark in central Kyiv with its glass panels.

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. 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.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said 11 infrastructure facilities in eight regions and in the capital were damaged.

Two border crossings between Poland and Ukraine, in Medyka and Korczowa, were experiencing power cuts on the Ukrainian side, a spokesperson for Poland’s border guard said.

Three cruise missiles launched against Ukraine from Russian ships in the Black Sea crossed Moldova’s airspace, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nicu Popescu complained.

Amid the escalation of fighting in Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he and Putin had agreed to deploy a joint “regional grouping of troops.” He offered no details as to where the grouping will be deployed, when and what for.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Moscow, said the move follows Lukashenko’s claims that Ukraine was planning an attack on Belarusian territory.

“The danger [now] is an expansion of this war,” Vall said.

What did Russia say?

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.

Putin, speaking in a video call on Monday with members of Russia’s Security Council, said Monday’s attacks were in response to the explosion on the Kerch Bridge.

“This morning, on the advice of the defence ministry and according to a plan from the general staff, a massive strike was carried out with high-precision, long-range weapons… on energy, military command and communications facilities in Ukraine,” Putin said.

He repeated, without providing evidence, his assertion that Ukraine and its NATO backers were behind still-unexplained ruptures to the Nord Stream gas pipelines which run from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

Putin also accused Ukraine of attempting to carry out an attack against a nuclear power plant in Russia and against the TurkStream gas pipeline running from Russia to Turkey.

“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.

Moscow’s defence ministry said the strikes had achieved their aims. “All targets have been hit,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies