Russia bombarded several cities across Ukraine with sustained missile and rocket attacks on Monday morning, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of terrorism for blowing up a symbolic and strategically important bridge linking Russia with Crimea.
Images on social media showed a children’s playground in Kyiv's Shevchenko Park that had been damaged in a barrage of missile strikes that hit the Ukrainian capital during rush hour.
At least one blast hit right by the main building of Kyiv’s National University, according to photographs and videos shared on social media.
Rockets and missiles rained down on other major cities from the small hours of Monday morning through to daylight, including Lviv in the west of the country close to the Polish border, the northern city of Kharkiv, the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, and Mykolaiv in the south.
The death toll from the attack in Kyiv alone was initially put at five, but that is expected to rise.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video statement on social media after the level of destruction became apparent.
“The morning is difficult. We are dealing with terrorists. Dozens of missiles, Iranian ‘Shaheds’ [drones]. They have two targets: energy facilities – throughout the country... The second target is people… Stay in shelters today. Always follow the safety rules. And always remember: Ukraine was here before this enemy appeared, Ukraine will be here after him."
Such strikes are reminiscent of the early weeks of the war in February and March 2022, when people across the capital spent weeks on end taking cover in bomb shelters. In recent months, the focus has been in the east and south of the country, with Ukrainian forces attempting to regain territory seized by Russia on the battlefield.
Recent humiliating defeats, which have included Ukraine seizing major tactical areas such as Lyman in lightning-fast operations, have set Russia back in what is still only referred to as a “special military operation” in Russia.
The attack on Kerch Strait Bridge in Crimea over the weekend was another significant blow. A major blast destroyed part of the bridge on Saturday morning, in an attack labelled “terrorist” by Putin, who blamed the “Ukrainian secret service”.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 from Ukraine in a relatively bloodless operation. The Kerch bridge cost the Kremlin billions of dollars to build, and is a vital transport link for goods and equipment between Russia and the annexed territory.
The bridge opened in 2018 to fanfare, including a visit from Putin himself, and is heavily fortified by missile defence systems and supposedly a school of killer dolphins to intercept any frogmen trying to plant explosive devices.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but has hastily released a stamp celebrating the blast.