KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Waves of explosive-laden suicide drones slammed into the Ukrainian capital on Monday, setting buildings on fire and punching a hole in one. People rushed for cover or tried to shoot down the suicide bombers.
The concentrated use of drones was the second dam in as many weeks – after months in which airstrikes had become rare in central Kyiv. The assault struck terror and frayed nerves as explosions rocked the city. Energy facilities were struck and a drone largely collapsed a residential building, killing four people, authorities said.
Intense, sustained bursts of gunfire rang out as Iranian-made Shahed drones buzzed overhead, apparently from soldiers trying to destroy them. Others took cover, nervously scanning the sky. But Ukraine has become grimly accustomed to the attacks almost eight months after the Russian invasionand city life resumed as rescuers picked up the debris.
Previous Russian airstrikes on Kyiv were mainly missiles. Analysts believe the slower Shahed drones can be programmed to accurately hit certain targets using GPS unless the system fails.
Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Monday’s barrage came in successive waves of 28 drones – in what many fear will become a more common mode of attack as Russia seeks to avoid burnout its stocks of long-range precision missiles.
Five drones dived into Kyiv itself, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said. In the Kyiv region, at least 13 people were shot down, all from the south, said Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force.
A strike appeared to target the city’s heating network, hitting an operations center. Another slammed into a four-story residential building, ripping a gaping hole and collapsing at least three apartments on top of each other. Four bodies were found, including those of a 6-month pregnant woman and her husband, Klitschko said. An older woman and another man were also killed there.
An Associated Press photographer captured one of the drones, its triangle-shaped wing and pointed warhead clearly visible against the blue sky.
“All night and all morning the enemy is terrorizing the civilian population,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a social media post. “Drones and kamikaze missiles are attacking all over Ukraine.”
“The enemy may attack our cities, but he cannot break us,” he wrote.
Andrii Yermak, head of the presidential office, posted on social media that Shahed drones had been used.
Zelenskyy, citing Ukrainian intelligence, previously claimed that Russia ordered 2,400 drones from Iran. Russia renamed them Geran-2 drones, which means “geranium” in Russian. A photo of debris from one of Monday’s strikes, posted by Klitschko, showed the word Geran-2 branded on a mutilated tail fin.
Iran has previously denied supplying weapons to Russia, although its Revolutionary Guard leader has boasted of supplying weapons to the world’s biggest powers, without giving further details.
Drones pack an explosive charge and can linger on targets before diving into them. Their explosions startled people awake. Among them is Snizhana Kutrakova, 42, who lives near one of the strikes.
“I’m full of rage,” she said. “Full of rage and hatred.”
The Russian military said it used “high-precision long-range air and sea-based weapons” to hit Ukrainian military and energy installations. They hit “all assigned targets,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has called for European Union sanctions against Iran for supplying drones to Russia. He reiterated Ukraine’s need for air defense and ammunition, saying he had addressed a meeting of EU counterparts from a bomb shelter because air raid sirens were blaring .
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the 27-nation bloc was gathering evidence on Iran’s drone sales to Russia, and if the allegations are true, “we will be prepared to react with the tools at our disposal”. The EU has also approved a military training program in Europe for thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and plans about 500 million euros ($486 million) in additional funds to purchase weapons for Ukraine.
Iranian-made drones have been used elsewhere in Ukraine in recent weeks against urban centers and infrastructure, including power plants. At just $20,000 apiece, the Shahed is a fraction of the cost of high-tech missiles and conventional aircraft. The Kalibr cruise missile that Russia has used extensively in Ukraine costs the Russian military about $1 million each.
Swarms of drones also challenge Ukrainian air defenses. Western countries have promised systems capable of shooting down drones, but a large part of these weapons has not yet arrived in Ukraine and, in some cases, maybe in months.
“The challenges are serious because the air defense forces and assets are the same as at the beginning of the war,” said Ihnat, the air force spokesman. Some air defense weapons supplied by the West can only be used during daylight hours when targets are visible, he added.
Russian forces also struck energy infrastructure elsewhere on Monday, apparently seeking to escalate pressure on the Kyiv government after previous attacks knocked out power.
Shmyhal, the prime minister, said hundreds of settlements were without power after missile attacks on critical infrastructure in the Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.
The Ukrainian nuclear operator said that Russian bombings again cut off power to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, one of the most worrying hotspots of the Russian invasion.
The nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, needs energy for critical safety systems. When the bombings cut its power supply lines, the factory was forced to fall back on diesel generators – a temporary stopgap.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had said on Friday there was no need for more widespread attacks on Ukraine – after a flurry of strikes earlier in the week which he said were retaliation for the bombing of a bridge connecting the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula to Russia.
However, Putin also said that seven of the 29 targets designated after the attack on the bridge had not been hit “as the Defense Ministry had planned”, so forces from Moscow would continue to target them. He did not specify the targets.
After months during which strikes in the center of Kyiv were rare, the attacks of last week have put the country and its capital on the nerves.
Monday’s strike on Kyiv came amid escalating fighting in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south near Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Zelenskyy said on Sunday there was heavy fighting around the towns of Bakhmut and Soledar in the Donetsk region.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the industrial east known as Donbass and were two of the four regions annexed by Russia in September in defiance of international law.
In the south, the Ukrainian Air Force reported shooting down nine drones over the Mykolaiv region and six more over the Odessa region. The governor of the eastern Kharkiv region said nighttime attacks on a town and villages killed a woman and injured four others.
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Sabra Ayres, Hanna Arhirova and Inna Varenytsia, The Associated Press