More than seven months into the Kremlin’s invasion, life in the city and others far from the front lines had felt ordinary in many ways: Workers were back in their offices, restaurants were serving customers and couples enjoyed casual strolls through parks.
Many had taken to ignoring the occasional air-raid sirens, such was the sense of safety with Moscow’s military long since pushed back from the region and now on the retreat in the east and south.
That all changed suddenly, sending residents scrambling for shelters and bringing back painful memories of the early days of the war.
“It was scary, it felt like Feb. 24 inside,” Kyiv resident Alyona Gudenko told NBC News on the phone from the capital, referring to the day Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion.
Speaking in Ukrainian, Gudenko, 32, said she was woken up by the sound of the first three explosions over the city.
Unfazed, she said she stuck to her morning routine and went to work, with air-raid sirens blaring. Then a colleague sent her a photo appearing to show some power facilities next to the office that were blown up.
“Almost immediately after, two more rockets flew overhead, the explosions from them echoed very close by,” said Gudenko, an accountant, adding that she wanted all those responsible for this latest barrage of terror to die. “What else can I say?” she added.
Like Gudenko, residents across Kyiv were woken by blasts in several parts of the capital, including its center. It sent many seeking shelter into packed underground subway stations, with the streets largely empty for hours as authorities warned new attacks may be coming.
The uncertainty also left shops closed and sent school children home.
NBC News heard loud explosions in the morning, and witnessed a big crater apparently left by a rocket in the city’s central Shevchenkivs’kyi district, leaving surrounding buildings battered with shrapnel and windows shattered. Images and videos verified by NBC News showed incinerated cars and a crater near a playground in a city park.
At least six people were killed in the city, officials said, with dozens more injured. Those scenes were repeated across the country, with at least 19 killed in total and supplies of water and electricity damaged.
It’s a scale of attack not seen since the early days of the war.
For weeks, it was believed the Kremlin’s forces would attempt to take Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government, but Russian troops were forced to pull back in late March.
Art instructor Rostyslav Zavhorodnii spoke with NBC News in late February when the Russians were still closing in, and vowed to stay put in the city and defend it if needed. Since then he has enjoyed a largely peaceful life in the bustling capital — until Monday.
He said he heard an explosion while walking his 10-year-old cocker spaniel, Willy, on the eastern bank of Dnieper River. After hearing more blasts while on the phone with his mother in the western Lviv region that was also hit, he said he rushed home.
“It’s probably the closest I’ve gotten to the war since it started,” Zavhorodnii, 26, said in a message on the Telegram app, speaking Ukrainian.
Still, he said he was keeping calm.
“We are already used to this,” he said. “People are not panicking.”
Olha Povalyayeva said she fell “into a stupor” as she heard the first three explosions rock Kyiv in the morning.
“I couldn’t believe that it was really happening,” Povalyayeva, 30, said, speaking Russian on the phone.
About an hour later, she witnessed an explosion at a business center in central Kyiv, just a third of a mile away.
“I was terrified, I could not move,” the project manager said. “The shock wave was very strong. My legs buckled, my teeth started chattering from fear and nerves.”
As missiles pounded Kyiv, Alyona Shubina’s husband called to tell her the news and she rushed to pack bottles of water, snacks, blankets and a phone charger. “He took me near our home and we drove for our kids and then went down in the shelter,” Shubina, 33, said.
Her two sons were in school at the time of the attacks, but the couple drove to collect them.
Almost 30 people were sheltering in the underground car park of her apartment building, said Shubina, who works as a psychologist, but a good Wi-Fi connection was keeping her 6-year-old and 3-year-old children busy even while she despaired at the destruction outside.
“It is horrible,” she said in English via Instagram. “The future is falling apart again.”
Serhii Akimov lives in a tall building in the capital and could see all the way to the city center as it was rocked by explosions.
The damage he saw shocked him, said Akimov, 41.
“I just stayed next to the window, frozen and didn’t know what to do next,” he said.
But after another explosion hit a business center just next to his home, he said he immediately went to a bomb shelter.
“It is difficult to express how I feel,” Akimov, who owns an interior design studio in the capital, said on the phone from Kyiv, speaking Russian.
“I am very angry with the Russians,” he said. “They are just killing ordinary Ukrainians. I am worried, can’t pull myself together, to be honest.” But, he said, “I keep my hope.”
Daryna Mayer reported from Kyiv, Yuliya Talmazan from London, and Mithil Aggarwal from Hong Kong.