The photo of a blood-splattered pink stroller tipped on its side, wheels in the air, has driven home a growing conviction in Ukraine: Nowhere and nobody is safe from Russian bombs.
Iryna Dmitrieva and her daughter, Liza, 4, were on their way to see a speech therapist when the Russian rockets slammed into Vinnytsia, a city in west-central Ukraine, some 450 miles from the recognized front lines in the east of the country. Twenty-four people were killed, including Liza, who was in the stroller when the missiles hit.
Even as Moscow denies targeting civilians, entire Ukrainian towns and cities lie in ruins, and millions have fled their homes. Many escaped their ravaged regions and settled in cities like Vinnytsia, which is far from the epicenter of fighting in the east and was thus considered safe.
No longer.From sleepy suburbs of the capital. Kyiv, to a shopping mall in central Kremenchuk and university campuses in the southern Mykolaiv, Russia has been striking deep inside Ukrainian-controlled territory, part of what officials have called Moscow’s “campaign of terror.”
Its goal is clear, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after the strike on Vinnytsia — “to put pressure on you and me, on our society, to intimidate people.”
Russian defense officials said the strike in Vinnytsia targeted a building where Ukraine’s army command was meeting foreign arms suppliers.
But Kyiv-based psychologist Oleh Khomiak agrees with Zelenskyy, and says he believes Moscow is intent on demoralizing the entire nation.
“They want to break the people of Ukraine,” he said.
Khomiak believes that Russia hopes widespread fear created by seemingly indiscriminate strikes and civilian casualties will make Ukrainians push Zelenskyy and his government to end the war in any way, whether it favors Ukraine or not.
Jack Watling, a military analyst at the U.K. think tank Royal United Services Institute, says that strikes deep inside Ukraine are Moscow’s way of ensuring that life never returns to normal.
“If you are striking potentially anywhere in the country, and almost anything, whether it be a school or a university or a block of flats, is targetable, then you create a pervasive tension and fear in the population,” he said.
“If your strategy is shifting to one in which you are trying to break down the will of your opponent to fight, there is a logic which is to say — we’re not going to let anyone get on with their lives,” Watling said.
With war fatigue setting in, Zelenskyy and regional authorities have been pleading with the population not to ignore air raid sirens and seek shelter.
With more Western-supplied weapons flowing into Ukraine, Russia has been targeting ammunition depots and training bases deep within the country to try and destroy them before they reach the battlefield, Watling said. But bad intelligence and the low accuracy of the weapons that Moscow appears to be using have meant that civilian targets have also been hit.