Russia fires 31 missiles at Kyiv in the first attack in weeks as people scramble for cover in subway

A firefighter stands amongst the debris after a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 21, 2024. Around 30 cruise and ballistic missiles were shot down over Kyiv on Thursday morning, said Serhii Popko, the head of Kyiv City Administration. The missiles were entering Kyiv simultaneously from various directions in a first missile attack on the capital in 44 days. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

A firefighter stands amongst the debris after a Russian attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 21, 2024. Around 30 cruise and ballistic missiles were shot down over Kyiv on Thursday morning, said Serhii Popko, the head of Kyiv City Administration. The missiles were entering Kyiv simultaneously from various directions in a first missile attack on the capital in 44 days. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia fired more than two dozen missiles at Kyiv before dawn on Thursday, attacking the Ukrainian capital for the first time in six weeks and sending panicked residents flooding into the relative safety of the subway system in a scene reminiscent of the first weeks of the war.

Air defenses shot down all 31 of the missiles, though the falling wreckage still damaged apartment buildings and injured 13 people, including a child, officials said.

An estimated 25,000 people, including about 3,000 children, took shelter in the city’s subway stations as air raid sirens wailed for about three hours, officials said.

Survivors, some in tears as emergency workers treated them in the streets, recounted narrowly escaping from their homes after being jolted awake by loud bangs at around 5 a.m.

Raisa Kozenko, a 71-year-old whose apartment lost its doors and windows in the blast, said her son jumped out of bed just in time. “He was covered in blood, in the rubble,” she said, trembling from shock. “And all I can say is … the apartment is completely destroyed.”

Russia has attacked civilian areas since the war started in February 2022 in an apparent effort to demoralize Ukrainians and break their will to fight. But the attack Thursday hardened Kozenko’s will to prevail.

“I believe in our victory. We will prevail no matter what,” she told The Associated Press.

Russia launched two ballistic missiles and 29 cruise missiles against the capital, and they arrived at roughly the same time from different directions, Ukrainian authorities said. The attack occurred hours after a visit to Kyiv by President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Kyiv has better air defenses than most other Ukrainian cities and regions, including sophisticated systems provided by Western allies. The missile interception rate is frequently high, rendering Russian attacks on the capital significantly less successful than early on in the war. Other places, including the port city of Odesa, are more vulnerable and have sustained heavy damage from Russian missiles.

Ukrainian officials warn that their resources are stretched thin and that they need considerably more Western weapons if they are to keep fighting Russia’s invasion.

The heavy attack on Kyiv came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to “respond in kind” to recent Ukrainian aerial attacks on the Russian border region of Belgorod, which have embarrassed the Kremlin and which Russian officials say have killed civilians.

At a Wednesday event at the Kremlin, Putin said Russia “can respond in the same way regarding civilian infrastructure and all other objects of this kind that the enemy attacks. We have our own views on this matter and our own plans. We will follow what we have outlined.”

Five people were injured in an attack Thursday on the Belgorod region that damaged homes and a sports stadium, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said. Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it stopped 10 rockets over the region.

In Kyiv, an 11-year-old girl and a 38-year-old man who were injured in Thursday’s attack were hospitalized, the city administration said. Eight other people suffered light injuries, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Ukraine’s Emergency Service said about 80 people were evacuated from their homes.

Falling wreckage from the intercepted missiles set fire to at least one apartment building, burned parked cars and left craters in streets and a small park. Some streets were littered with debris, including glass from shattered windows.

Mariia Margulis, 31, said a decision to stay in the hallway throughout the attack saved her family.

“The blast wave blew out all the windows on the side where everything happened,” she said. “My mom was supposed to sleep in that room, but I asked her to move to the corridor in time, which saved us.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the country’s Western partners to send more air defense systems so they can be distributed to other parts of the country where missile strikes have become more common.

“Every day, every night such … terror happens,” he said on Telegram after Thursday’s attack. “World unity is capable to stop it by helping us with more air defense systems.”

Zelenskyy said Russia doesn’t have missiles that can evade U.S.-made Patriots and other advanced air defense weapons.

European Union leaders were considering new ways to help boost arms and ammunition production for Ukraine at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Russia has largely turned its attention to other Ukrainian cities, targeting them with drones and ballistic missiles.

On Wednesday, Russian ballistic missiles killed five people and injured nine in the eastern Kharkiv region.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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