Target of bombs is unclear, with some speculating Russia is trying to destroy key Ukrainian monuments

For two Mondays in a row Russia has launched missiles at Kyiv’s city centre, in the most intense strikes on the capital since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The targets of these missiles are unclear – if they were meant to strike crucial infrastructure, the only real clarity is that they have exploded in central, residential districts, falling close to parks, offices and cultural buildings.

Two of last week’s explosions were so close to significant national monuments that some speculated that the statues themselves – sandbagged and protected – might have been the targets.

One of those missiles cratered a children’s playground a few metres from a monument to Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s national poet. Fundamental in creating a Ukrainian-language literature, he was exiled by Tsar Nicholas I and banned for writing or making art for a decade. In a neat turn of history, his monument, when it was erected in 1939, replaced an earlier statue of that very same Russian ruler.

Another missile, landing on the other side of the park bearing Shevchenko’s name, hit a road intersection, part of a morning of Russian strikes that killed seven and injured more than 50 in the city. It also scattered hoarding protecting a monument to the statesman and scholar Mykhailo Hrushevsky, a key figure in the pre-revolutionary Ukrainian nationalist movement, and the author of a 10-volume history of the country.

Kyiv’s statues – sandbagged by the city authorities for protection – are one of only a few reminders, along with an 11pm curfew and the regular wailing of air raid sirens, that this bustling city is at war. Boxed up, muffled, veiled and hidden, they also give Kyiv a strange new look – as if the sculptures have been replaced by contemporary artworks.Advertisement

In Volodymyrska Hirka Park, where paths wind through trees above the Dnieper River, a sculpture dedicated to Dante Alighieri was inaugurated in 2021 – a gesture towards western European, rather than Russian, culture. His gaunt, rather mournful carrara marble head pokes up comically from above the sandbags.

He looks much like Winnie buried up to her neck in Samuel Beckett’s bleakly funny play Happy Days. Indeed, Beckett seems entirely appropriate for the coal-black sense of humour that so many Kyivans are displaying in the face of the Russian invasion.