February 8, 2023

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

American intelligence agencies believe Russia is likely to step up its efforts to attack civilian infrastructure and government buildings in Ukraine with the war about to begin its seventh month and Ukraine about to celebrate its Independence Day holiday, the State Department and other U.S. officials said Monday.

The U.S. government declassified an intelligence warning on Monday to ensure that the officials’ concerns about the threat reached a broad audience. Following that declassification, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv issued a security alert and once more urged American citizens to leave Ukraine.

“The Department of State has information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days,” the alert said. “Russian strikes in Ukraine pose a continued threat to civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

The warning comes as both Ukrainian and American officials have been concerned about a new Russian offensive, potentially timed to Ukraine’s Independence Day on Wednesday and as a response to a string of attacks against Russian military targets in Crimea, the peninsula in the Black Sea that Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The declassified intelligence warning was reported earlier by Reuters.

Across Ukraine, security is being tightened. Officers are fanning out on the streets. Big celebrations have been banned.

People have been urged to pay special attention to air-raid sirens, which many seem to have become inured to. In Kyiv, the capital, the sirens usually produce no rush to bomb shelters. The Ukrainian authorities warn that Russia still possesses an enormous stockpile of cruise missiles, which, in the past six months, have brought sudden death to Ukrainians in many places.

Throughout the war, Russia has struck civilian infrastructure, including rail lines, shopping malls, auditoriums and apartment buildings. Some of those attacks have been part of broad artillery barrages, while others have been targeted strikes that missed their intended marks.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has also been warning his citizens to be extra cautious at this time.

“We should be aware that this week Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel,” Mr. Zelensky said in his nightly address on Saturday.

And there is another worry: that Russia may use the milestone to start show trials. Videos have emerged of iron cages being built on the stage of the philharmonic theater in Mariupol, a battered city that the Russians occupy. The fear is that, on Wednesday, as Ukraine celebrates its decades of self-rule, the Russians will take Ukrainian prisoners of war into the theater and put them on trial as terrorists.

“Our enemy is insidious,” said a statement from the Ukrainian National Police. “It can deliver painful blows precisely on the days of the most important national holiday — the Independence Day of Ukraine.”

Mick Mulroy, a former C.I.A. officer and Pentagon official, said he expected Russia to aim for targets in Kyiv, potentially using the killing of Daria Dugina in a car-bombing outside Moscow on Saturday to justify the strikes. Ms. Dugina, 29, was the daughter of Aleksandr Dugin, a political theorist who has provided the intellectual framework for President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The mood in Kyiv on Monday appeared somber. The city has rebounded since Russian forces withdrew from its outskirts a little more than a month into the war. The streets are full of people now, mingling with friends, going to work, taking a stroll in the summer sunshine. But with war still raging in the country’s south and the east, the sense of normalcy is fragile. Many residents seemed happy with the idea of getting through Wednesday quietly.

Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Pavlo Shetemet, a government clerk, said he planned to work from home on Independence Day and might even head to the beach, as he did on Monday, which was bright and warm. He chatted with friends and watched children splashing around an emerald-green lagoon off the Dnipro River, not far from the center of town.

“A lot of people are talking about possible attacks,” said Mr. Shetemet. “Me, personally? I don’t think the Russians will do that on Independence Day. It’s too obvious. It’s too stupid.”

He stared out at the lagoon’s gentle waves. “It will be OK, I think,” he said. “But it won’t be normal.”

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