The day death rained from the sky
Published by The Daily Mail (11th October, 2022)
THE first blast erupted after 8am, sounding alarmingly loud and perilously close to my hotel. Then came a couple more, a long pause, then another burst of hideously familiar bangs, thumps and thuds.
These were the staccato sounds of war, a series of cruel explosions in the midst of a bustling city filled with commuters on their way to work.
A shocked man rushed past in the street, saying he had just passed a nearby building that had several floors missing. Gaping holes appeared in roads and roofs, a bus was blasted apart, innocent people suddenly met their deaths.
For this was the Monday morning rush hour from hell as Vladimir Putin unleashed a furious barrage of missiles that rained down on cars, homes, offices and stations across Ukraine.
Launched from aircraft, drones and naval vessels, the lethal strikes exploded in a hail of terror as commuters headed to work in cities from Lviv in the west through to the second city of Kharkiv, 600 miles east beside the Russian border.
A second wave was fired later in the day as the Kremlin continued its diabolical slaughter, leaving sirens wailing and fearful citizens rushing back down to basements.
Ukraine claimed 84 missiles were launched, with 43 shot down. At least 14 people were confirmed dead and 97 wounded in attacks that damaged 117 buildings. These included six deaths and 51 injuries in Kyiv as the capital, home to three million people before the war, was hit for the first time since June.
’Russia is trying to destroy us and wipe us off the face of the earth,’ said President Volodymyr Zelensky. ‘We are dealing with terrorists. They want panic and chaos. Today the whole world once again saw the true face of a terrorist state that is killing our people. Not only on the battlefield but also in peaceful cities.’
The strikes on more than 20 places mark a significant escalation of the eight-month war. Russia targeted civilian infrastructure by hitting electricity, heating and transport facilities and disrupting power and water supplies.
Putin admitted this was revenge for his latest humiliation in the disastrous invasion of Ukraine: the weekend attack on his beloved 12-mile road and rail bridge that links Russia to Crimea, the peninsular he annexed illegally in 2014.
Addressing a hastily arranged televised meeting of his security council, the Kremlin strongman accused Kyiv of carrying out ‘terrorist acts’ and pledged a ‘severe response’.
Attacking on such scale was intended to spread alarm and panic, smashing the sense of normality that has been slowly been returning to most cities away from the front as Russian forces retreat. Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of Putin and a former president, insisted Russia remained set on ‘the full dismantling of the political regime in Ukraine’.
So once again I found myself witnessing the callous actions of an evil dictator, who is facing mounting criticism from hardline allies after launching a catastrophic war based on the most absurd pretext.
Kyiv was hit seven times, with six cars bursting into flames as parks and even a playground were attacked. ‘It was very scary – glass was pouring down from above,’ said one man. ‘People were falling to the ground, crying and praying.’
The emergency services said more than 30 fires broke out. One strike damaged the Klitschko pedestrian and bicycle bridge, a popular tourist spot on the banks of the Dnipro River that was opened only in May 2019.
‘I’m shocked,’ said Ivan Poliakov, 22, struggling to speak through his fury. ‘I love Kyiv. The people are good, they are courageous. But in an instant – it’s death.’
In Sloviansk, close to the fighting on the Donbas frontline, several residents died in a strike on a house, including a young woman violinist whose body was hurled into a neighbour’s garden.
Officials in Dnipro – an industrial city of a million people in central Ukraine – said ten missiles were fired at the area, with four destroyed in the air. At least four people were killed, 19 injured and 80,000 left without electricity. Yet the sense of shock over such atrocities was fused with an unbowed spirit of defiance.
Putin claimed his missiles hit communications, energy and military facilities – but I found only the hideously-twisted wreckage of a bus and residential blocks with shattered windows.
Two construction workers died in these attacks. The bus driver, doing his daily job of ferrying men and women to work, was rushed to hospital with terrible wounds. And there was the sadly-familiar sound of weary citizens sweeping up broken glass.
A stunned girl, perhaps eight years old, stared morosely through the hole in the side of her home that once held glass. Three jars of jam had somehow stayed intact.
In a broken tower block, 70-year-old Sofia showed me where she had been sleeping behind a curtain separating her bed from the living room when the windows exploded, leaving the smashed frame on her sofa surrounded by shards of glass.
‘I had to take drops to calm myself after seeing such things on television but when it happens to you, it is impossible to describe the horror,’ said the pensioner, a retired transport manager.
Her terror increased when she could not escape her flat after the blast jammed the front door. ‘What have we done to Putin that he does these awful things to us?,’ asked Sofia. ‘Why can’t the world stop him when so many people have died?’
Maxsym, 45, a truck driver before the war, was shaking and seemed on the brink of tears as he explained how he had come home for a short break from the front for his wife’s birthday. A bunch of pink roses sat on the floor of his home.
Daria, a 17-year-old college student, had been sleeping alone in her flat after her parents left for work. ‘I feel only hatred toward the people doing this,’ she told me. ‘How can this be happening in the 21st century?’
Her parents Iryna, a caterer, and Oleksandr, a builder, had come back home and looked utterly distraught as they stood in their bedroom surrounded by glass. They plan on moving to a safer place in nearby countryside amid fears of more attacks.
Ordinary people living ordinary lives who suddenly saw their homes blown apart and all their family certainties bust in an instant – like so many Ukrainians I have met.
Yet this distraught couple said the same words as Sofia, boiling the kettle for a cup of tea amid the chaos. So did Maxysm, preparing to go back to the front line with his limp to join his brother in uniform.
‘We will stand strong,’ said Iryna, 44. ‘We will fight back. There is a lot of anger and resistance.’
These determined words were echoed by Borys Filatov, the mayor of Dnipro, who declared last night: ‘There is no fear – only hatred and the desire to fight.’
Yet the big question is whether this barrage of missile attacks on civilians presages a new phase of the war – or whether it is simply another desperate roll of the dice by a dictator trapped by his own stupidity in starting the conflict.
Alarmingly, these strikes reflect the trademark of Sergey Surovikin, a bloodstained general infamous for his ruthlessness, who Putin has just appointed to lead his war effort amid rumbling discontent about its conduct.
Surovikin, who has been jailed for killing protesters and for illegal firearms trading, is a notorious butcher who oversaw the destruction of Aleppo in Syria and was involved in the crushing of Chechen cities.
Yet as one Ukrainian journalist told me, the Nazi blitz on British cities only strengthened citizen resolve.
Igor Lachenkov, a famous blogger from Dnipro, said: ‘The Russians spent a huge amount of missiles attacking civilians which does not help them in terms of military advance but will only make Ukrainians even more angry. Russians can’t fight – they know only how to terrorise others.’