A UK defence minister has accused Russia of “war crimes” after a series of missile strikes on civilian areas of Ukrainian cities hundreds of miles away from the frontline of the invasion.
Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was targeted today for the first time in months, and explosions were reported in Dnipro, Lviv, Ternopil, Khmelnytskyi, Zhytomyr and Kropyvnytskyi in what appeared to be retaliation for the partial destruction of a bridge linking Russia to the occupied territory of Crimea.
Liz Truss will join fellow leaders of G7 nations – the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the EU – as well as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, on Tuesday for emergency talks by video conference on the situation.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson condemned Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “reckless” violence against the people of Ukraine.
“Contrary to Putin’s ludicrous rhetoric, we’re clear it’s the Ukrainians who have seen their lives destroyed by needless and senseless Russian violence, and we will continue to support them to ensure Russia fails in Ukraine,” the spokesperson said.
“We are keeping a close eye on these increasingly reckless tactics being used by Russia in response to Ukraine’s advance.”
The statement came after security Minister Tom Tugendhat branded the strikes on Ukrainian cities “war crimes” while foreign secretary James Cleverly said they were “unacceptable”.
The timing of the attacks suggests they were a response to the strike against the Kerch Bridge, which has both strategic and symbolic importance.
Russian President Mr Putin called the attack “a terrorist act” masterminded by Ukrainian special services, but Kyiv has made no claim of responsibility.
The attack on Kyiv resulted in explosions in the city’s Shevchenko district, a central area that includes the historic old town as well as several government offices.
BBC journalist Hugo Bachega was broadcasting live when the attack happened, with the sound of a missile overhead and subsequent explosion captured on his microphone.
He could be seen ducking for cover as the blast rocked the capital during his piece on BBC World, and he escaped to safety with his crew.
Lesia Vasylenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, posted a photo on Twitter showing that at least one explosion occurred near the main building of the Kyiv National University in central Kyiv.
“What is Russia trying to hit?” she asked. “The national university? The park? Or the playground?”
A glass pedestrian bridge, which had been a popular attraction, was also struck.
“People would have been jogging this morning,” Ms Vasylenko said.
Foreign Secretary Mr Cleverly offered the UK’s “ongoing moral and practical support” to his counterpart in Kyiv, Dmytro Kuleba.
“Russia’s firing of missiles into civilian areas of Ukraine is unacceptable,” the foreign secretary said.
“This is a demonstration of weakness by Putin, not strength.”
Mr Tugendhat said: “Targeting civilians is a vile act.
“Russian war crimes start as a record of failure and disgrace.”
The UK’s ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons said British staff in Kyiv were safe and added that her thoughts were with those injured in the city.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said 75 missiles were launched by Russia, of which 41 were shot down.
Defence minister Oleksii Reznikov stepped up calls for Western allies to supply more equipment, saying: “The best response to Russian missile terror is the supply of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems to Ukraine.”