By SABRA AYRES Associated Press
Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Waves of explosive-laden suicide drones struck the Ukrainian capital Monday as families prepared to start their week early. The explosions echoed across Kyiv, setting buildings on fire and sending people to shelters.
Even in a city that has grown grimly accustomed to airstrikes since Russia launched its invasion in February, such concentrated use of drones sowed terror and frayed nerves, with people nervously scanning the skies as they sought cover.
It was not immediately clear how many drones swooped into the capital. The drones used in the attack appeared to include Iranian-made Shaheds. Previous Russian airstrikes in Kyiv have been mostly missiles.
In the Kyiv region alone, 13 or more drones were shot down, all of them flying from the south, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, Yurii Ihnat, said.
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Other drones passed. The capital’s central Shevchenko district was one of the affected areas, with apartment blocks damaged and a non-residential building on fire, Kyiv city mayor Vitali Klitschko said. He said 18 people were rescued from the rubble of an apartment building and rescuers were trying to pull out two other people known to be under the rubble.
An Associated Press photographer who was filming morning scenes from Kyiv caught one of the drones on camera, its triangle-shaped wing and pointed nose cone clearly visible against the blue sky. The drones arrived in several waves and buzzed overhead with the furious hum of their engines.
There was no immediate news of casualties. The intended targets of the drones were not immediately clear, but Russian airstrikes over the past week have hit infrastructure, including electrical installations. A drone that hit an apartment building caused the total collapse of at least three apartments and left a gaping hole. Rescue teams climbed through the rubble looking for victims amid gray smoke.
“All night and all morning the enemy terrorizes the civilian population,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a social media post. “Kamikaze drones and missiles are attacking all of Ukraine.”
“The enemy may attack our cities, but he will not be able to break us,” he wrote.
Video posts on social media showed drones flying over the capital and smoke billowing into the morning light. The sound of sustained gunfire could also be heard in one post, apparently trying to shoot down a drone.
The Iranian-made Shahed, which Russia has renamed the Geran-2 drones, have an explosive charge and can hover over targets before plummeting down on them. They can be shot one after another from racks. Their distinctive A-wing makes them easily identifiable. Andrii Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, also confirmed in a social media post that the Shahed drones were among those used in the attack on Kyiv.
Iran has previously denied providing weapons to Russia, though its Revolutionary Guards chief has boasted of providing weapons to the world’s major powers, without elaborating.
Drones have also been used repeatedly by Russia in other parts of Ukraine in recent weeks to target urban centers and infrastructure, including power plants. They are comparatively cheap, costing around US$20,000, and can be used in swarms.
Their number presents a challenge to Ukraine’s air defenses, said Ihnat, the Air Force spokesman. Some air defense weapons supplied by Western nations can only be used during the day when targets are visible, he added.
Western nations have promised to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses with systems that can shoot down drones, but much of that weaponry has yet to arrive and, in some cases, may take months.
“The challenges are serious, because the air defense forces and means are the same as at the beginning of the war,” Ihnat said.
Attacks in central Kyiv had become a rarity in recent months after Russian forces failed to capture the capital early in the war. Last week’s morning strikes were the first explosions to be heard in Kyiv’s city center in several months, and put Kyiv and the rest of the country on edge again. Monday’s blasts appeared to continue what many fear will become more common in urban centers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week’s attacks were in retaliation for the bombing of a bridge connecting the Crimean peninsula with the Russian mainland. Putin blames Ukraine for masterminding the explosion, which halted traffic over the bridge and reduced Moscow’s ability to use the bridge to supply Russian troops in occupied southern Ukraine.
The attack on Kyiv comes as fighting has intensified in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions in recent days, as well as the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south near Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Zelenskyy said in his speech on Sunday night that there was heavy fighting in the cities of Bakhmut and Soledar in the Donetsk region. The Donetsk and Lugansk regions make up most of the industrial east known as Donbas, and were two of four regions annexed by Russia in September in defiance of international law.
On Sunday, the Russian-backed regime in the Donetsk region said Ukraine had bombed its central administrative building in a direct attack. No casualties were reported.
Inna Varenytsia in Kyiv contributed to this story.
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