KYIV – Ukraine has pledged to bolster its armed forces after Russia launched its biggest airstrikes on cities since the start of the war, forcing thousands to flee to bomb shelters and inciting Kyiv to suspend its electricity exports to Europe.
Missiles hit targets across Ukraine early Monday, killing 19 people and injuring 105, emergency services said, as they entered intersections, parks and tourist sites.
Explosions were reported in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil and Zhytomyr in western Ukraine, Dnipro and Kremenchuk in the center, Zaporizhzhia in the south and Kharkiv in the east, according to Ukrainian officials.
The barrage of dozens of cruise missiles fired from the air, land and sea has been the most widespread wave of airstrikes to hit far from the front lines, at least since the first volleys on the first day of the war, the February 24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he ordered ‘massive’ long-range strikes after blaming Ukraine for an attack on a bridge linking Russia with annexed Crimea on Saturday, but the United States said that the scale of the attacks meant that they had probably been planned for longer.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with US President Joe Biden on Monday and later wrote on Telegram that air defense was the “number 1 priority for our defense cooperation”.
“We will do everything to strengthen our armed forces,” he said on Monday evening. “We will make the battlefield more painful for the enemy.”
Ukraine will continue its counter-offensive to reclaim lands annexed by Russia in the south and east, despite escalating missile attacks, a senior politician has told BBC News.
Ihor Zhovka, deputy chief of Ukrainian President Zelensky’s office, said Monday’s strikes were intended to sow panic, hitting major cities in the midst of rush hour.
But, he said, Putin failed to intimidate the Ukrainians even with the greatest intensity of strikes, which apparently targeted both critical infrastructure and civilian targets.
President Biden told Zelensky that the United States would provide advanced air defense systems. The Pentagon said Sept. 27 that it would begin delivering the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System within the next two months or so.
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said more aid to Ukraine increases the risk of a wider war.
“Such assistance, in addition to providing kyiv with intelligence, instructors and combat directives, leads to further escalation and increases the risks of a confrontation between Russia and NATO,” Antonov told media.
Monday’s rush hour attacks were deliberately timed to kill people and knock out Ukraine’s power grid, according to Zelenskyy.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reported that 11 major infrastructure targets had been hit in eight regions, leaving parts of Ukraine without electricity, water or heating. He promised to restore public services as soon as possible.
As it tried to end blackouts, Ukraine halted its electricity exports to the European Union, at a time when the continent is already facing a spike in electricity prices that has fueled inflation and hampered industrial activity.
Russia’s airstrikes come three days after an explosion damaged the bridge it built after taking Crimea in 2014. Russia blamed Ukraine and called the deadly blast “terrorism”.
“Leaving such acts unaddressed is simply impossible,” Putin said, alleging other unspecified attacks on Russian energy infrastructure. He threatened more strikes if Ukraine struck Russian territory.
The United States, however, said Russian attacks on such a scale could not have been staged in just days.
“It was probably something they had been planning for a while,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told CNN. “That’s not to say that the explosion on the Crimean Bridge could have accelerated any of their planning.”
Ukraine, which views the bridge as a military target supporting Russia’s war effort, celebrated the explosion without claiming responsibility.
After weeks of battlefield setbacks, Russian authorities are facing the first sustained internal criticism of the war, with state television commentators demanding ever tougher measures.
Putin responded to Ukrainian advances by ordering the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of occupied territories and threatening to use nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, Russia made its third high-ranking military appointment in the space of a week with Air Force General Sergei Surovikin taking over as commander of forces in Ukraine. He previously commanded Russia’s brutal air campaign in Syria.
Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West say this is an unprovoked war of aggression.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in an update late Monday that Russia staged at least 84 missiles and airstrikes, and Ukraine’s air defenses destroyed 43 cruise missiles and 13 drones.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it hit all of its targets. Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.
Russia has also suffered a setback on the diplomatic front, with the United Nations General Assembly voting to reject its call for the 193-member body to hold a secret ballot this week on whether to condemn Russia’s annexations of four partially occupied regions in Ukraine. Read more
The General Assembly decided, with 107 votes in favor, that it would proceed to a public vote.
The president of the United Arab Emirates, a member of the group of oil producers known as OPEC+ which beat back the United States last week by announcing deep production cuts, will visit Russia on Tuesday to meet Putin and push to the “military de-escalation”, reported the UAE state news agency WAM.
Biden and Group of Seven leaders will hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss their commitment to support Ukraine, the White House said. — Agencies