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Why Russia's rocket attack on Kyiv is seen as an insult to the U.N.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres walks with security personnel as his visits Borodyanka, a town outside Kyiv that was devastated by a Russian attack and occupation, on Thursday. Russia sent a deadly attack into the capital as Guterres visited.
Sergei Supinsky
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AFP via Getty Images
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres walks with security personnel as his visits Borodyanka, a town outside Kyiv that was devastated by a Russian attack and occupation, on Thursday. Russia sent a deadly attack into the capital as Guterres visited.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres had recently met in person with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he was on a high-profile visit to Ukraine's capital — but those circumstances weren't enough to prevent Russia from launching a deadly attack on a residential area of Kyiv while Guterres visited the capital city Thursday night.

Ukrainian officials are calling the attack a "postcard from Moscow" and an insult to the United Nations.

The attack's timing quickly set off suspicions

Five Russian missiles hit Kyiv "immediately" after Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy finished a meeting, Zelenskyy said. It was an intentional affront to the global diplomat, he added.

"This says a lot about Russia's true attitude to global institutions," Zelenskyy said Thursday night. "About the efforts of the Russian leadership to humiliate the U.N. and everything that the organization represents."

Guterres arrived in Ukraine after meeting with Putin on Tuesday, hoping to de-escalate the war and guarantee humanitarian aid for civilians whose lives have been upended by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, Guterres toured the ruined town of Borodyanka, northwest of Kyiv, which was bombed and occupied. For him, it evoked the evil and absurdity of war.

"I must say what I feel. I imagined my family in one of those houses that is now destroyed and black," Guterres said. "I see my granddaughters running away in panic, part of the family eventually killed. So, the war is an absurdity in the 21st century. The war is evil."

Guterres also spoke about the need to respect international law and about being at "ground zero" — remarks that later took on a chilling aspect after Russia sent a new attack into the capital.

"It is a war zone, but it is shocking that it happened close to us," Saviano Abreu, a spokesman for the U.N.'s humanitarian office, told Agence France-Presse.

Before Thursday's strike on the heart of Kyiv, attacks on Ukraine's capital had mostly halted.

The strike killed at least one person: a journalist

An apartment building in Kyiv was hit by a Russian attack on Thursday, killing a journalist who lives there. It's next to a factory that makes missile parts — but also vacuum cleaners.
Frank Langfitt / NPR
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NPR
A Russian attack hit an apartment building in Kyiv on Thursday, killing a journalist who lived there. The building is next to a factory that makes missile parts — but also vacuum cleaners.

The Russian military says it used "high-precision long-range air-based weapons" to destroy buildings related to the Artem rocket and space enterprise in Kyiv. But a visit to the scene found that the most visible damage was to an apartment building nearby. The building stands next to a factory that makes missile parts, but also vacuum cleaners.

Rebar hung down like strands of hair from the bottom three stories of the towering apartment building. Officials say the residence was hit by a cruise missile that came out of Russian-controlled Crimea and knocked out the bottom. One person, a journalist, was killed in the attack, and nine people were injured.

The journalist was Vira Hyrych, who worked with U.S. government broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Ukraine and who lived in the building. The news outlet confirmed her death, saying her body was found under wreckage in the 25-story structure Friday morning.

Hyrych was also mourned by the Israeli Embassy in Ukraine, which said she formerly worked there. Radio Liberty said she worked in Ukraine's TV industry before landing a job in Radio Svoboda's Kyiv bureau four years ago.

The perception of the attack as an intentional slight was heightened by one of Guterres' main goals: to negotiate humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave Mariupol. People in that besieged port city, he said, "need an escape route out of the apocalypse."

Ukraine's civilians are suffering the most, U.N. leader says

As for what comes next in Ukraine, military experts see the Russians making a big push in eastern Ukraine and trying to seize control of the south. Analysts expect the Russians to engineer sham independence referendums in cities and towns so that Putin can present the invasion as a success to his domestic audience back home.

Ukraine's leaders have already said they'll reject the results of any such referendums.

Nobody expects a negotiated solution to end the war anytime soon — including Oleg Ignatov, a senior Russia analyst with the International Crisis Group.

"They don't know how to stop this war right now, because both sides still hope that they can, or will, be able to win this war."

As Guterres visited Kyiv's ravaged suburbs on Thursday, he said that Ukraine's people are suffering the most.

"This horrendous scenario demonstrates something that is unfortunately always true," he said, as he gestured at burned-out buildings. "The civilians always pay the highest price."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.