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KYIV — Russia attacked Ukrainian cities with drones on Monday, killing at least three people in an apartment building in downtown Kyiv during morning rush hour, and targeting infrastructure across the country in a second large wave of air strikes in a week.
Ukrainian soldiers fired into the air trying to shoot down the drones after blasts rocked central Kyiv. An anti-aircraft rocket could be seen streaking into the morning sky, followed by an explosion and orange flames, as residents raced for shelter.
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A pregnant woman was among three people killed in the attack on the residential building, Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said. Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi said there had been deaths in other cities but did not give a full toll.
Black smoke poured out of the windows of the Kyiv apartment building and emergency service workers toiled to douse flames.
“I have never been so afraid… It is murder, it is simply murder, there are no other words for it,” said Vitalii Dushevskiy, 29, a food delivery courier who rents an apartment in the blasted building.
His flatmate, who gave his name only as Nazar, said they had tried to leave their flat only to find the staircase “all gone.”
Nearby, Elena Mazur, 52, was searching for her mother, who had managed to call her to say she was buried under rubble.
“She is not picking up the phone,” Mazur said, hoping she had been rescued and taken to hospital.
Ukraine said the attacks were carried out by Iran-made ‘suicide drones’, which fly to their target and detonate. Russia’s defense ministry said it had carried out a “massive” attack on military targets and energy infrastructure across Ukraine using high-precision weapons.
“All night and all morning the enemy terrorizes the civilian population. Kamikaze drones and missiles are attacking all of Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on the Telegram messaging app.
“The enemy can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us. The occupiers will get only fair punishment and condemnation of future generations. And we will get victory.”
Reuters saw pieces of a drone used in the attack that bore the words: “For Belgorod” – an apparent reference to Ukrainian shelling of a Russian region bordering Ukraine.
The strikes came exactly one week after Russia unleashed its heaviest aerial bombardment of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities since the start of the war – also during morning rush hour.
“This is already a tradition: to wake Ukrainians with missiles on Mondays,” said Alla Voloshko, a 47-year-old lawyer who took shelter in the basement of her apartment block.
Ukraine’s military said it had destroyed 37 Russian drones since Sunday evening, or around 85% of those used in attacks.
A drone attack hit the Everi marine terminal in the southern city of Mykolaiv late on Sunday, officials said, damaging sunflower storage tanks and setting aflame leaking oil.
“This is an entirely civilian facility. There is no military,” said Andriy, 47, a senior manager who declined to give his last name. He said the attacks were part of a Russian effort to “destroy the economy and to destroy food security.”
The new United Nations human rights chief, Volker Turk of Austria, said drone attacks on civilians had to stop.
Russia denies targeting civilians in its “special military operation” in Ukraine, now in its eighth month.
Iran repeated on Monday its denial that it is supplying the drones to Russia. The Kremlin has not commented.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter: “Iran is responsible for the murders of Ukrainians. Country that oppresses its own people is now giving ru-monsters (Russians) weapons for mass murders in the heart of Europe.”
Some European Union foreign ministers, in Luxembourg for talks, called for new sanctions against Iran if Tehran’s involvement in Russia’s war on Ukraine is proven.
Russia has accused Ukraine of hitting targets in Belgorod region near the border. Pro-Russian news sources on Telegram reported that Ukraine had struck Belgorod’s airport overnight. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv, which typically does not comment on incidents in Russia.
Elsewhere on Monday, renewed Russian shelling near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, caused it to be disconnected again from Ukraine’s power grid, Ukrainian state energy firm Energoatom said.
The plant, which has often been shelled during the war, is occupied by Russian forces but operated by Ukrainian staff.
“Such nuclear blackmail of a terrorist country should not go unanswered by the world community! Ukraine needs protection of the sky above its energy facilities!” Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko wrote on Facebook.
Russia has long blamed Kyiv for shelling at the plant.
In southern central Ukraine, a large fire broke out at an energy facility in the Dnipropetrovsk region after an overnight missile hit, a local official said.
British military intelligence said on Monday Russia was facing more acute logistical problems in southern Ukraine after a blast on Oct. 8 caused damage to Russia’s road-and-rail bridge to Crimea, the peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Monday its forces had thwarted a Ukrainian attempt to breach their defenses in the southern Kherson region.
Ukrainian forces, helped by Western arms, have clawed back territory in Kherson region – strategically vital as it links Crimea to the rest of Ukraine – and in parts of the northeast in a major counter-offensive over the past two months.
EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to set up a mission to train some 15,000 Ukrainian troops from next month and to provide an extra 500 million euros worth of funding for arms deliveries to Kyiv.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Himani Sarkar and Gareth Jones; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel, Peter Graff)