KYIV and DNIPRO, UKRAINE, and MOSCOW — Explosions rocked several cities across Ukraine in the most extensive attack on the country since the early days of Russia's invasion in February. The attacks came only hours after Russia blamed Ukraine for a weekend explosion that partially damaged a strategic bridge that connects Russian-occupied Crimea to mainland Russia.
Ukrainian emergency services report that several people are dead across the country, including at least five people in the the capital Kyiv, which hasn't been hit since June. It's also the closest strike to the center of the city since the war began, coming just over 1,000 yards from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office.
In a video address to his Security Council, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strikes were a necessary response to what he argued were repeated "terrorist attacks" by Ukraine on critical Russian infrastructure — including the bridge, pipelines, and nuclear power plants.
"This morning, a massive high-precision strike was conducted on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, military command, and communications," said Putin. "In case Ukrainian terrorist attacks continue on Russian territory, our response will be tough and proportional."
Local media from the Kharkiv region in the east to the Lviv region in the west report outages and downed communications. Rescue efforts across Ukraine were slowed due to repeated volleys of explosives coming from the sky.
President Zelenskyy said in a video posted to social media that the strikes disproportionately targeted civilian infrastructure in 11 of Ukraine's 25 regions, including power plants and water heating facilities.
"It's a tough morning when you're dealing with terrorists," said Zelenskyy in the video, which recalled the selfie he took the night Russia invaded in February. "They're choosing targets to harm as many people as possible."
Damage across the country
At least 16 cities sustained attacks, Ukraine's national broadcaster reported, many of which had not been fired upon since this spring.
In Kyiv, Ukraine Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko says that at least two museums and the National Philharmonic concert halls sustained heavy damage. A nearby strike damaged the country's main passenger terminal, delaying trains during this morning's rush hour, according to Ukraine's National Railway.
Explosions rocked civilian areas of Dnipro, a major southern city. One site hit was a bus stop, nestled between high rise apartment buildings. A missile slammed just a few feet in front of a bus on its morning route to pick up commuters, destroying the bus and blowing out the windows in the nearby apartments.
"This happened at rush hour, as lots of public transport was operating in the city," said Ihor Makovtsev, the head of the department of transport for the Dnipro city council, as he stood by the wreckage. He added that the bus driver and four passengers had been taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
The attack follows a missile strike on a bus depot in Dnipro just over a week ago, which killed two drivers and damaging dozens of buses.
"It's difficult for me to find any logic to their so-called artillery work because all our transportation is only for civilian purposes," Makovtsev said.
81-year-old Viktor Shevchenko looked out from what once were the windows of his first floor balcony, just next to the bus stop. Shattered glass covered the ground below. He said he had been watering the plants on his balcony just minutes before the blast, but went to his kitchen to make breakfast.
"The explosion blew open all of my cabinets, and nearly knocked me to the ground," he said. "Only five minutes before, and I would have been on the balcony, full of glass."
At least four people were confirmed dead and 19 injured in the Dnipro area, according to the region's military administration.
Strikes also hit parts of Lviv, Ukraine's westernmost city close to the Polish border, knocking out power and sending school children home.
The country's defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, writing on Twitter, said that strikes on civilian areas are "war crimes."
Ukraine's top brass released a statement that said that the country's air defenses took down at least 40 incoming air attacks, but several dozen more got through. Ukrainian officials blamed Iranian-made suicide drones launched from Belarus and the Black sea for many of the attacks. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has allowed Russia to use his country as a staging ground for attacks on Ukraine, and after today's attacks requested further assistance from the Russian government in anticipation of Ukrainian retaliation.
The Kremlin's allies cheer the aggressive response
The massive Russian response seemed intended to calm Putin allies who have grown increasingly critical of the Kremlin's military strategy as Russian forces have repeatedly ceded territory to an ongoing Ukrainian advance. Many had been openly lobbying President Putin to strike Ukraine harder.
"We warned Zelenskyy that Russia hadn't really started yet," wrote Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a loyalist to Putin who repeatedly has attacked Russia's Defense Ministry for incompetence in carrying out the military campaign.
"Now I am 100% satisfied with the way the 'Special Military Operation' is being run," added Kadyrov, using the Kremlin's preferred term for the war.
In response to Monday's attacks, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv reiterated its calls for Americans to leave the country.
Gregory Warner contributed from Lviv, Ashley Westerman and Polina Lytvynova contributed from Kyiv, and Hanna Palamarenko contributed from Dnipro