Jhe hunch was that Russian forces, frustrated at their failure to take Vladimir Putin’s main objective, kyiv, would begin to pound the city with heavy artillery.
The damage these weapons can cause is graphically illustrated in Podilskyi.
The bombardment of the neighborhood, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, effectively demolished a 10-storey shopping center, turned the parking lot into a crater, started a fire that lasted for hours and shattered windows in residential buildings 500 meters away.
Eight people were killed and dozens are believed to be missing under the rubble of the Retroville mall. Emergency services said it was the biggest scene of civilian damage in the Ukrainian capital in the 26-day war and that further such attacks on populated areas would cause carnage.
The blast came after a relative lull in hostilities for Kyiv over the weekend. The bombardment was followed by missile strikes, which hit homes as well as public buildings. A 40-mile-long Russian military convoy, which had set out across the Belarusian border, had split up and started taking vantage points around the capital in recent days. Western officials said he appeared to have started the first part of his mission late.
Ukrainians claimed commercial and residential buildings were hit. The Kremlin maintained that the shopping complex concealed an underground ammunition storage facility, making it a legitimate target.
The bombardment was accompanied by attempts by Russian troops to enter the city from the north, around the towns of Hostomel, which has a strategically important airfield, and Irpin, where Ukrainian forces had blown up a bridge and blocked a passage on a road. 25 minutes by car from the city center.
Both attacks were repelled by Ukrainian troops, but the Russians received reinforcements throughout the past week along the northern front, as well as from the south. Other offensives, according to Ukrainian commanders, should take place in the nights and days to come.
The mayor of Kyiv, former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, announced a 35-hour curfew from 8 p.m. on Monday – the third ordered since the invasion began. The reason given, like the two previous times, was to track down saboteurs believed to be working for Moscow who might become active ahead of a Russian assault.
Residents two sets of roads from the mall heard the blast before the glass in their windows flew out. “It’s the biggest explosion I’ve heard since the beginning of the war,” said Irina Pateruk, “then there were flames that kept burning. It’s amazing to see such a big building so badly damaged.
Ms Pateruk, who works for a company selling beauty products, was not surprised that such a strike took place near her home. “The whole city is under attack, the whole city is a target for them. There was a gym at the mall that I used to use, but of course that’s gone now. But the main thing is that even more people were not killed,” she said.
About 90% of the region’s inhabitants have left their homes and left the city since the start of the conflict. Ms. Pateruk, however, was determined to stay. “I have my 14 year old daughter here; it is our home, our city. Why should we move and become refugees? she asked.
Husband and wife Alex and Tanya Cherkasov are also among the block residents who have decided to stay. “We are both volunteers defending the city, so obviously our job is to be here,” Mr Cherkasov said. “Also, the Russians attack everywhere, so bombings like this can happen anywhere.”
Viktor Nimchenko, who had opened a temporary coffee stand for the local population, also believes that “the front line is everywhere”. He made a point of emphasizing that “Irpin is not far away. I think the Russians are using big guns to scare people away from that area. They want a clear area to pass.
On the constantly active front line on the northern outskirts of the city, a volunteer battalion was among the forces that had come under intense Russian military pressure. Evidence of prolonged firefights was in burned vehicles, broken roadblocks and bullet casings on the road.
“They tried to pass this area last week and then they stopped for a few days,” said captain Nicolai, who did not want his last name published. “There was a break after that, but they really tried to get through last night, a lot more than before. Normally they would try, then fall back. This time they seemed more determined, but we pushed them away. We will continue to bring them back.