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Ukraine pledges to strengthen its armed forces after major Russian airstrikes

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  • Attacks in Ukrainian cities during Monday rush hour
  • Twelve dead and dozens injured
  • Zelenskiy after Biden’s call: Air defense is the number 1 priority

KYIV, Oct 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine has pledged to bolster its armed forces after Russia launched its biggest airstrikes on cities since the start of the war, forcing thousands to flee to bomb shelters and prompting Kyiv to suspend its electricity exports to Europe.

Missiles hit cities across Ukraine on Monday morning, killing 12 people and injuring dozens, as they tore through intersections, parks and tourist sites.

Explosions were reported in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil and Zhytomyr in western Ukraine, Dnipro and Kremenchuk in the center, Zaporizhzhia in the south and Kharkiv in the east, Ukrainian officials said.

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The barrage of dozens of cruise missiles fired from the air, land and sea has been the most widespread wave of airstrikes to strike away from the front line, at least since the first volleys on the first day of the war, February 24.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered ‘massive’ long-range strikes after an attack on the bridge connecting Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula over the weekend, and threatened more strikes in the future if the Ukraine struck Russian territory.

Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke with US President Joe Biden on Monday and later wrote on Telegram that air defense was the “number 1 priority for our defense cooperation”.

“We will do everything to strengthen our armed forces,” he said on Monday evening. “We will make the battlefield more painful for the enemy.”

Biden told Zelenskiy that the United States would provide advanced air defense systems. The Pentagon said Sept. 27 that it would begin delivering the nation’s advanced surface-to-air missile system over the next two months or so.

The Moscow attacks sent thousands of Ukrainians rushing to bomb shelters as air raid sirens sounded.

Zelenskiy said 12 people were killed and officials reported dozens injured after the assaults.

The attacks were deliberately timed to kill people and knock out Ukraine’s power grid, he said. Its Prime Minister reported that 11 major infrastructure targets had been hit in eight regions, leaving parts of the country without electricity, water or heat.

As it tried to end blackouts, Ukraine halted its electricity exports to the European Union, at a time when the continent is already facing a spike in electricity prices that has fueled inflation, hampered industrial activity and caused exorbitant consumer bills.

The president of the United Arab Emirates, a member of the group of oil producers known as OPEC+ which beat back the United States last week by announcing severe cuts last week, will travel to Russia on Tuesday to meet Putin and make push for “military de-escalation”, UAE state news agency WAM reported.

IMPACT ON THE BATTLEFIELD

The Kremlin airstrikes come three days after an explosion damaged the bridge it built after taking Crimea in 2014. Russia blamed Ukraine and called the deadly blast “terrorism”.

“Leaving such acts unaddressed is simply impossible,” Putin said, alleging other unspecified attacks on Russian energy infrastructure.

Ukraine, which views the bridge as a military target supporting Russia’s war effort, celebrated the explosion without claiming responsibility.

As troops suffered weeks of battlefield setbacks, Russian authorities faced the first sustained public criticism in the land of war, with state television commentators demanding ever tougher measures.

Since early September, Ukrainian forces have crossed front lines and retaken territory.

Putin responded by ordering the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of the occupied territories and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons.

On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry appointed General Sergei Surovikin, acclaimed in Syria, as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. A Russian air campaign in Syria helped the government crush its enemies.

Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked war of aggression.

Monday’s explosions carved a huge crater next to a children’s playground in one of central Kyiv’s busiest parks. The remains of an apparent missile were buried, smoking in the mud. More volleys hit the capital again later in the morning.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in its evening update that Russia staged at least 84 missiles and airstrikes, and Ukraine’s air defenses destroyed 43 cruise missiles and 13 drones.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it hit all of its targets.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has promised to restore public services as soon as possible.

In another possible sign of escalation, Putin’s closest ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, said he had ordered troops to deploy jointly with Russian forces near Ukraine, which he accuses of plan attacks against Belarus with its Western backers.

Russia used Belarus as a staging ground early in the war, but Lukashenko did not send in his troops.

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Reports from Reuters offices; written by Costas Pitas;

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.