Russia unleashed a barrage of deadly attacks on cities across Ukraine on Monday, hitting the heart of the country’s capital, Kyiv, as part of a wave of strikes against civilians and infrastructure not seen since the earliest days of the war.
From Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the northeast, missiles tore through rush-hour traffic and into energy facilities, in apparent retaliation for a blast that damaged a key bridge to the annexed Crimean Peninsula over the weekend.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a televised address that his military had launched a “massive strike” on Ukraine’s “energy, military command and communications facilities,” telling his security council it was revenge for what he called Kyiv’s long track record of “terrorist” actions, including the bridge blast.
The Russian leader also issued a threat.
“If attempts to carry out terrorist attacks on our territory continue, Russia’s responses will be tough and will correspond in scale to the level of threats posed to Russia,” he said. “No one should have any doubts about this.”
After a series of humiliating battlefield setbacks that have piled pressure on Putin, the attacks were a sudden escalation that showed Moscow retained the capacity to terrorize Ukraine’s population if not defeat its military. They shattered months of relative calm in Kyiv and other areas far from the front lines.
At least five people were killed and 51 injured in the capital, Mayor Vitalii Klitchko said. Across the country, at least 11 people were dead and 64 injured, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.
NBC News has not verified the numbers.
Russia used missiles and Iranian-built drones to target civilians and energy facilities throughout the country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a recorded video.
“They want panic and chaos. They want to destroy our energy system. They are hopeless,” he said.
Critical infrastructure facilities were damaged in 12 regions of the country and Kyiv, Ukraine’s state emergency services said, with electricity supply partially disrupted in 15 regions. Significant internet outages were also reported across the country by the monitoring group NetBlocks.
The blasts came hours after Putin first accused Ukraine of “terrorism” over the huge explosion that severely damaged the bridge connecting Russia and annexed Crimea on Saturday, dealing a strategic and symbolic blow to his campaign. Kyiv has not taken responsibility for the incident, which the Russians said killed at least three people and was caused by a truck bomb.
A series of failures on the battlefield and the chaotic call-up of hundreds of thousands of military reservists has led to growing criticism of the Kremlin at home, with some prominent figures urging escalation in an effort to reverse the course of the conflict.
Ukraine was braced for retribution that soon arrived.
A number of blasts were heard in the center of Kyiv early Monday by NBC News. Smoke was seen rising off buildings, while images and videos verified by NBC News showed incinerated cars and a crater near a playground in a city park. Residents were sent scrambling for shelter in underground subway stations, while air-raid sirens sounded in other major cities across the country.
Klitchko, Kyiv’s mayor, said the explosions occurred in the central distinct of Shevchenko, where several key government offices are. He later said that some of the city’s critical infrastructure was hit and that the the threat of new strikes remained.
Kyiv’s authorities also warned of possible power and water supply interruptions, and urged people to charge their phones and stock up on water.
Explosions were also reported in cities like Dnipro in central Ukraine, as regional leaders across the nation warned people to seek shelter.
In all, the Ukrainian army said Russians used at least 84 cruise missiles and 24 drones in Monday’s attacks. Moscow’s defense ministry shared a video of rockets being launched from a naval vessel and said all objectives of its strikes had been reached.
The attacks prompted immediate condemnation from Kyiv and its allies.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called Putin “a terrorist who talks with missiles,” while defense minister Oleksii Reznikov urged the country’s Western backers to step up their supply of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.
U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink tweeted that the embassy’s staff were safe “after another wave of Russian strikes on civilian sites.” Ukraine’s European allies reacted with “shock” at Moscow’s attacks and reaffirmed their support for Kyiv, while Zelenskyy said the Group of Seven industrial nations will hold an emergency meeting.
Over the weekend Putin appointed a new overall commander of his forces in Ukraine who has a reputation for brutality, while the Russian leader warned last month that he was ready to use nuclear weapons if his country’s territorial integrity was threatened.
While it remains to be seen whether Monday’s strikes represent a sustained escalation, the Kremlin’s hawks and chief propagandists appeared to rejoice in the attacks.
“And here comes the answer,” said the editor-in-chief of Russia’s state-run RT news channel, Margarita Simonyan, in a post on Telegram, referring to the attack on the Crimean bridge that she added was always an obvious “red line.”
Former President Dmitry Medvedev, one of the most outspoken proponents of the war, said shortly after Putin’s speech acknowledging the strikes: “The first episode has been played. There will be others.”
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who was one of the most prominent Russian voices to criticize the country’s military leaders in recent weeks, said he was now “100% satisfied” with the campaign and urged Zelenskyy to flee while he could.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said, meanwhile, that the two countries will deploy a joint regional military task force, the state-run Belta news agency reported.
Russia has used Belarus as a staging ground for its invasion of Ukraine, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the development could more directly involve Belarus in the war.