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Ukrainians Shun Kremlin Suggestions Their Country Was Behind Moscow Attack

WorldEuropeUkrainians Shun Kremlin Suggestions Their Country Was Behind Moscow Attack

Ukrainians have reacted with a mixture of concern and mockery to the narrative pushed by the Kremlin and Russian state media that Ukraine was behind the terrorist attack Friday on a Moscow concert hall, a claim made despite the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility.

“This is a typical provocation,” Iryna Blakyta, 24, a resident of Kyiv, said on Monday. “It’s typical for Russia.” She said President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would use the attack to create a rally-around-the flag effect directed against Ukraine, after more than two years of war have worn down the Russian population. “He needs to mobilize people,” Ms. Blakyta said, “he needs to show who the enemy is.”

That worry was palpable Monday morning in Kyiv, which was targeted by two ballistic missiles in broad daylight, the third air assault against the Ukrainian capital in five days. A university building in a central part of the city was reduced to rubble in the attack, and officials said at least 10 people were injured.

Ukrainian officials said Mr. Putin’s hints that Ukraine was involved in the attack were in line with the Kremlin’s longstanding policy of lying to sow confusion about the motives behind criminal acts, cover up the failings of its security services and justify a violent response.

“Putin is a pathological liar,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, wrote on X on Sunday, listing a series of bombings, murders and aggressive actions by Russia that he said were all cloaked in lies, including Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the downing of an airliner over Ukraine by Kremlin-backed fighters the same year.

“Do not let Putin and his henchmen dupe you,” Mr. Kuleba said.

Mr. Putin said in a statement about the attack, which killed at least 137 people, that the suspects “were heading toward Ukraine” and that “according to preliminary information, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border.”

But Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, ridiculed that claim over the weekend, saying that the Ukrainian-Russian border is an active combat zone that is heavily mined and guarded by both sides — making any crossing extremely complicated and dangerous.

“You don’t need to be a security expert” to understand this, Mr. Yusov said on Ukrainian television on Saturday.

He and other officials have pointed to Russia’s use of previous terror attacks to escalate conflicts abroad and further strengthen the country’s security apparatus at home. A series of bombings of residential buildings in Russia in 1999 set off the second of the two post-Soviet wars in Chechnya, and Mr. Putin used a deadly school siege in 2004 to justify his rollback of political freedoms.

Some Ukrainian officials and analysts have said that Russia’s attempts to shift the blame to Ukraine could be used to lay the groundwork for expanding conscription. Russia has captured several cities and villages in Ukraine in recent months, but at considerable human cost, making it crucial to replenish its forces.

“Their only goal is to motivate more Russians to die in their senseless and criminal war against Ukraine,” Mr. Kuleba said.

Mykola Davidiuk, a Ukrainian political analyst, said Mr. Putin wanted to portray Ukraine as “a cruel enemy” linked to terrorism in order to stir up “aggressive attitudes toward Ukraine among Russian people.”

But he added that Ukrainians “don’t care” about this narrative because they have long been used to the Kremlin’s spurious portrayal of the conflict, including Mr. Putin’s false claim that Ukraine is run by neo-Nazi leaders and that the aim of the war is to denazify the country.

For now, people in Ukraine were left wondering whether Mr. Putin would use the terrorist attack to justify more deadly strikes against Ukraine. “He needs to constantly create some reasons, to keep things in control,” Ms. Blakyta said.

On Monday at around 10:30 a.m., residents of Kyiv were startled by a series of loud bangs that came less than a minute after air raid alerts blared across the capital, prompting people to run in the streets to get to shelter.

The Ukrainian Air Force said it had intercepted two ballistic missiles launched from Crimea, but falling debris destroyed a university gym. “Fortunately, there was nobody inside because it was closed,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko of Kyiv said as he visited the site of the strike.

Nearby, investigators were busy collecting and marking missile debris to analyze and determine exactly what kind of weapon was used. Because the missiles streaked into Kyiv quickly after the alarm sounded, there has been speculation that Russia used one of its powerful hypersonic missiles, which fly at several times the speed of sound.

All that remained of the university was a huge pile of bricks, twisted metal structures and broken concrete slabs. Cars nearby were covered in a thick layer of dust, and local people watched as rescuers and firefighters cleared away the rubble, still in shock at what had happened.

“A column of smoke and dust rose, just like in a fog. Then, sirens, rescue vehicles, emergency services,” said Evelina Korzhova, 30, standing in her flower shop, which faced the destroyed building. The shop’s glass window had been shattered by the blast.

In his evening address on Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said that over the past week Russia had launched some 190 missiles, 140 attack drones and 700 aerial bombs at Ukraine.

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn and Daria Mitiuk contributed reporting.

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