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Russian strikes batter Kyiv and send residents dashing for cover

In many ways, the fighting in Ukraine had felt far from Kyiv over the past few months, as the rhythm of life shifted to a new sort of normal after Russian forces retreated from the suburbs and other areas in Ukraine’s northeast in the spring. But Monday brought many residents back to the fear of imminent attack, to the uncertainty of war.

Smoke rises after a Russian missile attack on Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. (Finbarr O'Reilly/The New York Times)

Written by Michael Schwirtz and Megan Specia

Five charred vehicles sat outside a university, and the windows of a building were blown out in central Kyiv. The smell of gas and fire wafted through the air, and torrents of water bubbled up from a large crater in the centre of the street.

A body lay covered in a gold foil blanket. At another location, curtains billowed from the windows of a high-rise tower where the glass had been shattered by the force of the explosion. People stumbled in a daze out of damaged residential buildings, some with blood streaming from wounds, others trying to corral terrified children and pets.

A car fire is extinguished after a Russian missile attack on Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. (Finbarr O’Reilly/The New York Times)

In many ways, the fighting in Ukraine had felt far from Kyiv over the past few months, as the rhythm of life shifted to a new sort of normal after Russian forces retreated from the suburbs and other areas in Ukraine’s northeast in the spring. But Monday brought many residents back to the fear of imminent attack, to the uncertainty of war.

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By late morning, after a barrage of Russian strikes, at least five people were dead, dozens of others were injured, and Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, was grappling with a series of seemingly indiscriminate attacks at its heart. Countrywide, at least 14 people were killed Monday, Ukrainian authorities said, by attacks that also knocked out power and other key services in multiple cities.

The barrage of strikes was the first to hit central Kyiv in months. The searing sound of incoming rockets and the thud of their impact viciously shook the capital from the relative calm that had prevailed for many weeks, as the bulk of the fighting shifted to points east and south. Just a day earlier, residents had been attending dinner parties and drinking in outdoor cafes, enjoying the last vestiges of summer warmth.

On Monday, Aleksandr Shevchenko said, he was sitting in his car at a stoplight when he heard an “unreal sound” and his car began to collapse in on him. A missile had landed a few feet in front of his bumper, blowing his windshield back at him.

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A woman injured in a Russian missile attack on Kyiv, Ukraine, receives first aid on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. (Finbarr O’Reilly/The New York Times)

“I was able to get out and lie down near a wall,” he said. “It was terrifying. I’m calm now.” As another explosion boomed, he expressed defiance toward Russia, saying, “We’ll beat them in any case.”

Many were braced for more strikes, with air raid sirens continuing to blare through much of the day. Many people said they were caught off guard by the attack.

“We were not ready,” said Konstantin Shton, 47, who cleaned up debris outside a residential building Monday afternoon. “People were feeling really relaxed, so when the siren went off, no one went to the shelter.”

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Yuri and Irina Penza had recently installed soft green Provence-style cabinets in their central Kyiv apartment. They were preparing their morning coffee when a Russian strike hit just outside their home, blowing out all the windows and the front door, sending houseplants and coffee mugs flying and strafing rooms with projectile glass.

But the couple, who are in their 60s, were remarkably unscathed.

“Not even a scratch,” said Irina Penza while standing amid the wreckage of her home, which looked as if it had been turned upside down and shaken vigorously. “We were just very lucky,” she added. “The angels are flying above us.”

The first missiles hit central Kyiv around 8 a.m., just a few blocks from the couple’s home. Penza initially tried to convince herself that there had been a car accident. She said she looked out the window at the school across the street from her building and saw a boy there looking up at the sky. That’s when she knew it was an attack — but she decided to go to work anyway.

She and her husband own a business supplying and servicing fire extinguishers. Her clients, she said, were counting on her to keep the day’s appointments.

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Then, another missile, maybe two, exploded right outside. Penza had just stepped into the bathroom and was shielded from flying glass. Her husband managed to duck into a corridor and avoid injury, as well.

Damaged buildings after a Russian missile attack on Kyiv, Ukraine, receives first aid on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. (Finbarr O’Reilly/The New York Times)

The force of the blast blew the heavy steel doors in the building’s lobby off their hinges and stripped much of the glass from one side of the high-rise across the courtyard.

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“They’re inhuman, wild animals,” Yuri Penza said of the Russian forces.

After the strikes, the gas and water were still working in the apartment, and he was finally making the cup of coffee that the explosion had denied him earlier.

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He and his wife said that they believed the attacks were revenge for the bombing over the weekend of the only bridge linking Russia to Crimea — a sentiment shared by many in the capital.

After the barrage of strikes, an hourslong air alert remained over the city. Subway stations that were packed just a day earlier with weekend shoppers were again full of people Monday, but this time with thousands taking shelter, anxiously waiting underground and bracing for the echoes of the next blast.

In Teatralna Station, they waited in line to charge their batteries and scrolled through their phones looking for updates, grasping for any sense of what might come next. The scenes drew stark reminders of the earliest day of this war, when the capital had also been besieged. But this time, the missile strikes reached sites in the heart of the city, something many believed was intended to terrorise the population.

“Russia is targeting civilians here, so we don’t know what we will do now,” said Pavlo Pakhomov, 33.
He had been at the station for hours with his wife and 4-year-old daughter. They had laid out a small blue and yellow cushion, the colours of the Ukrainian flag, for the girl to sit on over the hard stone floor. They had returned to Kyiv only in September, after months in the country’s west.

“When we heard explosions, we decided to run for the subway,” he said. “The explosions were so loud.”

Now, they were unsure where to go. He said they were unlikely to stay in their apartment, which is near government buildings, and might try to make it to a family home outside the city.

Many breathed a collective sigh of relief when the first air raid alert finally ended after several tense hours, and people emerged from shelters in the city centre to assess the damage and sweep up the broken glass.

Nadiia Tkachuk, 67, who had been on her way to work at Kyiv City Council when the first strikes hit, said residents of the city would remain defiant. She had taken shelter in a metro station, where she sat waiting for three hours, but as soon as the alert lifted, she gingerly got to her feet to make her way home.

“When the war started, we didn’t leave, and we were fearless,” she said of her family’s decision to remain in the city. “From then until now, we have been in Kyiv. We have been working and waiting for victory.”

Less than two hours later, another siren rang out, indicating missiles in the air, and many again sought refuge underground.

Sasha Buyvalova, 24, clutched her small dog and a suitcase as she and her boyfriend waited for a taxi to take them out of the city centre. The windows in their apartment had been blown out by one of the blasts while they had sheltered in the bathroom.

“If we weren’t in there, I am not sure what would have happened,” she said, her voice shaking.

Nearby, on the side of the road, rubber gloves and bloodied bandages offered a stark reminder of the loss of life hours earlier.

Some people, like Alla Rohatniova, 48, had already begun to attempt to get out of the city. She was trying to get a ticket to western Ukraine with her husband Monday afternoon. Their home in the Kharkiv region had been destroyed by strikes two days ago, and they had fled to Kyiv for safety.

“There is no safe place,” she said with a sigh, adding that they were deeply shaken by Monday’s attacks. “Right now, we don’t know where they will strike. It could be anywhere.”

First published on: 11-10-2022 at 10:30 IST
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