Series of missiles shatter several months of calm but normal life quickly returns amid the destruction


by  and Artem Mazhulin in Kyiv

Shevchenko Park in central Kyiv is a tranquil public garden, where the trees are turning golden against the city’s blue, autumnal skies. Presiding over the park is a statue of Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s national poet, persecuted by the Russians in the 19th century for writing in Ukrainian.

But on Monday that sense of calm was violently shattered when a series of missiles hit the city centre. War had returned to what had been, for several months, a mostly peaceful – if anxious – city.

It was about 8.15am local time (06.15 BST), at rush hour, that a main road junction next to the park, near Taras Shevchenko National University’s science library, was hit. The rocket blast destroyed three cars, killing several occupants. Images from the immediate aftermath showed burning vehicles and first aiders treating the wounded.

Another missile hit the children’s playground of Shevchenko Park itself, ploughing up the paving stones, bending the play equipment and snapping a nearby tree. Further missiles fell close to the main train station, near Troieshchyna power plant on the left bank of the Dnieper, and at a footbridge across the river.

The novelist Victoria Amelina, who since the start of the 2022 Russian invasion has also been a war crimes researcher, was in the city centre when the missiles hit, having just arrived on the Lviv-Kyiv sleeper train.

Waiting in line for a cab, she heard the sound of at least two explosions. As she took a taxi home, she saw “black clouds and debris” near what is informally known as the Klitschko Bridge, named for Kyiv’s mayor. The glass-bottomed pedestrian and cyclists’ bridge, spanning the Dnieper, opened in 2019 and is often busy with saunterers and sightseers.

“This is not a strategic target,” she said. “If they hit this bridge it is a weird revenge for the Crimea bridge – this is a bridge where the tourists walk.”

Her route next took her past the road junction at Shevchenko Park, which had been hit minutes earlier. “It looked like they were either trying to hit the university or the statue of Taras Shevchenko,” she said. “Unfortunately they hit cars: I saw the fires and the cars on fire.”

She then passed to the other side of the park, and stopped her taxi so she could film the scene. “I saw a big hole and flames inside, right next to the children’s playground,” she said.

“This is very the centre of our capital and this is the park I love,” she added. “It’s the reason I moved to Kyiv - it’s so vibrant.”

The playground attack, said Amelina, was adjacent to Khanenko Museum, which contains paintings by Boucher, Rubens and Bellini, and ancient Iranian and Chinese artefacts.

Dmytro Olyzko and his eight-year-old daughter, Kamila, were visiting the children’s clinical hospital No 6 when the missiles struck.

“The parents there told me that all children at the hospital come here to play,” he said. “If it happened two hours later the playground would have been full of children.”

A couple of kilometres away, Iryna Gorlach, who works for an NGO in the education sector, was woken by a separate blast near the train station, not far from her apartment. By mid-morning, she was ensconced in her bathroom – the safest part of her flat – drinking coffee and trying to work, after deciding not to attempt to reach the nearest shelter, the local underground station.

“Somehow it’s the same on 24 February,” she said, referring to the first day of the war, when rockets also hit Kyiv. “And yet it’s not the first time for us, so it’s not quite the same.”

Also within earshot of the blasts near the train station, which hit a business centre, was Maria Glazunova, who works at the Dovzhenko Centre film archive. She had, she said, enjoyed a “pretty normal” summer with “film premieres, concerts and so on” – albeit that the city’s curfew “had made us teenagers again – we’d come home about 11pm”.

Mid-morning on Monday, though, she was busy charging all her devices and power banks and filling water bottles, just in case. “We are really angry because Shevchenko University now has broken windows, the same for the museum. Between them, the children’s playground is destroyed – the place my friends used to play when they were children. It’s pretty bad. But we just feel angry. Because it doesn’t make sense. Still friends are joking about the Kyiv bridge – it seems it’s more stable than the Crimea bridge.”

She had been planning a series of premieres of short films, due to take place the following day. “If necessary,” she said, “we’ll just move them to a partner cinema that has an auditorium underground. The show must go on.”

As extraordinary as the evidence of the destruction, was how quickly Kyiv returned to normal life after the attack. By lunchtime, and within 200 metres of the university strike, a boy was doing tricks on his skateboard on the plinth of a sandbagged statue outside the opera house. Shops and restaurants were opening again, people walking their dogs in the park.

The people of Kyiv, who survived weeks of Russian onslaught at the beginning of the war, seemed largely unphased by the latest assault, singing songs in the metro stations where they took cover, while cafe workers handed out drinks.

Oleksii Striapko, who works for an IT company, recently moved to Kyiv from Kharkiv, because it had seemed a safe haven from missile attack. “I lived in Kyiv for two peaceful months without explosions or deaths,” he said. “I’d just started getting used to living again, trying to make plans for the future. But Russia is destroying everything again, killing, stealing, terrorising every Ukrainian without exception.” Nevertheless, he added: “The understanding came to me today that I no longer feel fear, as I did at the beginning of the war. I know what to do and how to behave in a dangerous situation.”

Watching the clean-up in Shevchenko Park, which was already under way early on Monday afternoon, was Tetiana Kononir, who lives nearby. “It’s terrible,” she said. “I don’t know what to say. Who can know what Putin is thinking. I can’t even say whether he’s sick or whether he’s trying to frighten us or not.

“I don’t know what’s in his head, what’s in his heart … This only unites us even more. He will never defeat us. He will never put us on our knees.”

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