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Russia unleashes deadly strikes on cities across Ukraine after Crimea bridge attack

NBC News 10/10/2022 Daryna Mayer and Mariia Ulianovska and Lawahez Jabari and Artem Grudinin and Mithil Aggarwal and Yuliya Talmazan

Russia unleashed a barrage of deadly attacks on cities across Ukraine on Monday, hitting the heart of the country's capital as part of a wave of strikes against civilians and infrastructure not seen since the very 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 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 series of strikes 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.”

Image: (Efrem Lukatsky / AP) © Provided by NBC News Image: (Efrem Lukatsky / AP)

After a series of humiliating 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.

The country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and other officials blamed Russia for the explosions that shattered months of relative calm in Kyiv and beyond. At least 5 people were killed and 32 others injured in the capital city, local officials said.

NBC News has not verified the claims.

Ukrainian cities had been attacked by Russian missiles and drones, targeting civilians and energy facilities throughout the country, Zelenskyy said in a recorded video.

“They want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system. They are hopeless,” he said, adding that the timing and targets of the attacks signal Moscow wanted to “cause as much damage as possible.”

Eleven "important infrastructure facilities" were damaged in eight regions of the country and the capital, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said, adding that Ukrainians need to be prepared for temporary interruptions in the supply of electricity and water.

The blasts came hours after Putin first accused Ukraine of "terrorism" after the bridge connecting Russia and annexed Crimea was severely damaged, in a huge explosion that dealt a strategic and symbolic blow to the Kremlin. Putin directly blamed Ukraine's special services for the attack, but Kyiv has not taken responsibility for the incident.

A series of failures on the battlefield and the chaotic call-up of hundreds of thousands of military reservists have 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.

Kyiv's mayor, Vitalii Klitchko, said the explosions occurred in the central distinct of Shevchenko, where several key government offices are located. Explosions were also heard in the Solomyansky district in western Kyiv, he said.

Image: (Adam Schreck / AP) © Adam Schreck Image: (Adam Schreck / AP)

Klitschko later said the city’s critical infrastructure was hit, and there were an unidentified number of victims. Kyiv's authorities also warned of possible power and water supply interruptions, and urged people to charge their phones and stock up on water.

The city's military administration said at least 5 people had been killed and 32 injured in strikes on four different Kyiv districts so far.

Explosions were also reported in cities in central Ukraine and in the country’s west, as regional governors and mayors across the nation warned people to seek shelter. Five explosions were also heard in Kharkiv, in the northeast, by NBC News. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said at least eight cities, including major population centers Lviv, Dnipro and Zhytomyr, were targeted.

Army chief Valerii Zaluzhny said at least 75 rockets had been launched by the Russian military Monday morning, of which 41 had been intercepted.

The U.S. embassy in Kyiv issued an alert, urging Americans to shelter in place and leave Ukraine using ground transportation when it’s safe to do so, while the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, tweeted: “Russia escalates its barrage of attacks on Ukrainian civilians.”

“On the 229th day, they are trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.

His foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, called Putin “a terrorist who talks with missiles.” Ukraine's defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, called for the country's Western allies to step up their supply of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems as the best way to respond to what he said was “Russian missile terror.”

Putin appointed a new commander of his forces in Ukraine over the weekend and warned last month he was ready to use nuclear weapons if Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened.

On Monday 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.

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