Russian forces pounded Ukraine’s capital Kyiv overnight in what local officials described as the largest kamikaze drone attack since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of the country 15 months ago.
Officials said Ukraine’s air defence systems had downed 52 of the 54 incoming drones launched against Ukrainian targets in the early hours of Sunday, with 40 downed in Kyiv alone. The attack came as the city prepared for the annual Kyiv Day celebrations held to mark its founding.
“This was the most massive drone attack on the capital since the beginning of the full-scale invasion,” Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv’s military administration, said in a statement. “[It was] the 14th air attack on the capital since the beginning of May,” he added.
Mykola Oleshchuk, commander of Ukraine’s air force, said in a statement: “A record number of enemy strike UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] were destroyed tonight. The vast majority — in Kyiv region.”
He added: “Only fragments remain from the ‘gifts’ sent by the occupiers on Kyiv Day.”
The engines of the drones were audible following the air raid sirens, followed by the sound of machine gun fire, surface-to-air defence systems and the fighter jets seeking to intercept them.
Officials reported damage across the city. One person died and another two were hospitalised after debris from a downed drone hit a seven-story non-residential building.
On the southern outskirts of Kyiv’s downtown Pechersky district, some of the debris fell on to a five-storey residential building, destroying the roof and sending masonry crashing into the street below. No casualties were reported.
One family escaped injury when debris blasted through the roof into their bedroom. “We woke up and went into the hallway after air-raid sirens went off,” said the mother, standing outside alongside her weeping daughter and her son-in-law.
Ukrainian officials said 12 regions of Ukraine were hit by air strikes and artillery in the preceding 24 hours, including frontline areas in the east and south as well as Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv.
Ukraine’s air defence capabilities have been significantly boosted by the supply of Nato-grade systems since late last year, but Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has continued to plead for more. He praised the country’s air defence forces and rescue workers in a social media post on Sunday, saying: “You are our heroes.” “Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved.”
Russia late last year launched massive missile and drone strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, causing widespread blackouts throughout autumn and winter. Following an early spring lull, air strikes have intensified again as Ukraine prepares to launch a counteroffensive in an attempt to retake territory in the country’s east and south.
Valery Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, hinted on Saturday that the start of the counteroffensive was imminent, posting on social media that “the time has come to take back what is ours”.
The post included a video of soldiers training, who pledged to “destroy” the enemy and called upon God to “bless our decisive attack”.