May 22, 2024

Kyiv (Ukraine)

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An explosion is seen in the sky over Kyiv during a Russian missile strike on May 16, 2023.

One after another, bright flashes pierced through Kyiv’s night skies early on Tuesday morning, as Russia launched an “exceptional” aerial assault against the Ukrainian capital.

Most Kyiv residents would have had no way of knowing for sure that the sudden, terrifying loud bangs were the Ukrainian air defense systems taking down Russian missiles, rather than rockets hitting their city.

Liudmyla Kravchenko, her husband and their two children spent most of the night hiding in their corridor.

“There’s no bomb shelter nearby, the underground station is quite far from us … I think it’s even more dangerous to try to get there during the bombardment,” she told CNN.

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Kravchenko said that while her family doesn’t always take shelter during air raid alarms, last night was different. “It was very scary, so after we heard the first explosions we rushed to the corridor … of course in case the missile hits our house directly, none of this will save our lives – not two walls, not three, not even five,” she said, pointing to the guidance that people unable to reach shelters should stay inside and try to be separated from a potential impact zone by two walls.

She said her one year old son Artem slept in her arms as they were waiting for the attack to end. Her nine-year-old daughter is now so used to air raids that she knows to “to drop everything and take cover” when her parents tell her to.

Liudmyla Kravchenko said her family hid in the corridor during the attack on Tuesday.

Liudmyla Kravchenko said her family hid in the corridor during the attack on Tuesday.Yulia Kesaieva/CNN

“My wife counted over 30 explosions and we saw dozens of launches by the Ukrainian air defense from our balcony. It was so fast, we didn’t even have time to get to a shelter,” Tymofiy Mylovanov, a presidential adviser and head of the Ukrainian School of Economics, said on Twitter.

Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv’s military administration, said in a Telegram post that the barrage of missiles on Tuesday was the eighth assault on the Ukrainian capital this month. He said the attack came from multiple directions and was “exceptional in its density, with the maximum number of attacking missiles in the shortest time possible.”

Despite the intensity, most of the Russian munitions failed to hit their marks after being detected and destroyed by Ukraine’s defense systems, Popko added.

The falling debris caused some – although limited – damage on the ground. At least three people were injured, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. Authorities said early reports of damage were minor, with a building and several vehicles catching fire from falling debris in one area of the capital.

Klitschko said some debris fell within the grounds of the Kyiv Zoo, damaging some green spaces but not causing any injuries to the animals. The mayor added the zoo would be open as normal on Tuesday.

Air defenses hard at work

Ukrainian Armed Forces chief Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi said the attack, which started at about 3:30 a.m. local time, was launched from the north, south, and east.

“Six Kh-47M2 Kinzhal aeroballistic missiles were fired from six MiG-31K aircraft, nine Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea, and three land-based missiles (S-400, Iskander-M),” Zaluzhnyi said on Twitter, adding that Moscow also launched attack drones, all of which were destroyed.

While the Ukrainian military refused to comment on the type of weapons it used on Tuesday, two US officials and a Western official familiar with the matter told CNN that Ukrainian forces have begun using long-range Storm Shadow missiles provided by the UK to strike Russian targets.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed later on Tuesday that it destroyed a US-made Patriot air defense system in Kyiv on Tuesday – despite the Ukrainians saying all 18 Russian missiles launched at the country in the early hours of Tuesday morning were intercepted and destroyed.

The Ukrainian military has declined to comment on the claim by the Russian Defense Ministry.

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But a US official later told CNN that a US-made Patriot system was likely damaged, but not destroyed, as a result of Monday’s Russian missile barrage.

The US is still assessing to what degree the system was damaged, the official said, adding that will determine whether the system needs to be pulled back entirely or simply repaired on the spot by the Ukrainians.

storm shadow cruise missile 022823

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Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, said on Telegram that Tuesday marked “another unbelievable success for the Ukrainian Air Forces” with all six of the Kinzhal missiles shot down.

“Thank you to our Air Force service members and our partner states, who invested in securing the skies over Ukraine and all of Europe,” he said.

Kyiv resident Oleksandr Kravets, 50, said he saw the air defenses work first hand on Tuesday.

“I live on the 13th floor … I saw the missile wreckage falling. Our air defense are real heroes. I think they get better each month, the percentage of downed targets increases each time. I think it’s both – the experience and the new air defense systems we got,” he told CNN.

Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin have repeatedly talked up the hypersonic Kinzhal missiles for their ability to evade Ukraine’ original air defense systems.

However, that has changed since Ukraine received at least two US-made Patriot missile defense systems, one from Germany and one from the US, making it possible for Ukraine to intercept more modern Russian missiles such as the Kinzhal.

Earlier in May, Ukrainian and US officials said Russia had tried to destroy a Patriot battery with a Kinzhal air-launched ballistic-missile strike, but Ukraine Patriot operators were able to intercept the Russian weapon.

The Patriot systems, coupled with Ukraine’s other air defense systems, have been able to deal with most of what Russia has challenged them with in recent months – but Ukraine has been warning that its ammunition stocks are getting depleted.

Last week the Ukrainian capital was targeted by what Klitschko called Russia’s “most massive” drone attack, in which 36 Iranian-made Shahed were fired on the city. All 36 were intercepted and damage from falling debris was light, the mayor said.

An explosion is seen in the sky over Kyiv during a Russian missile strike on May 16, 2023.Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Ukrainian intelligence claims

The strikes on Kyiv came a day after Ukrainian intelligence claimed Russian forces are no longer capable of large-scale offensive action and faced a shortage of some missiles, such as the Kalibr.

However, Ukrainian Defense Intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov said Moscow still had enough missiles to sustain its current rate of air attacks.

He estimated Moscow has large stockpiles of S-300 missiles, which are capable of considerable destruction. The S-300 was designed as an anti-air weapon but Russia has frequently used it in a ground-to-ground mode, which makes it less accurate.

Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference in Rome on Saturday.

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Ahead of a much anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, Yusov said Russia “is on the defensive” along “the entire front line” and lacked the resources “to repeat large-scale offensive actions.”

“They have been preparing for defense all this time, and this is a serious factor that the Ukrainian command certainly takes into account when preparing for the de-occupation of Ukrainian territories,” he said.

In recent days, Ukraine’s military says it has gained an advantage in some areas near the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, but officials have been reluctant to provide specific dates for when the counteroffensive will begin.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in England Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv is “preparing very important counteroffensive steps.”

“We really need some more time,” he said, but added: “Not too much.”

War from above: A day with drone unit defending Ukraine's south
Among the dead in were two children, the city’s mayor said. Russia has recently increased the pace and intensity of its strikes on the capital.

Russia targeted the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, yet again in the early morning hours on Thursday, with air raid sirens warning residents to take shelter and loud booms from the air defense systems heard throughout the city.

Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said on the Telegram messaging app that according to preliminary information from emergency medical workers, three people had been killed, two of them children, and at least 14 injured, probably from debris that fell when the air defense systems shot down incoming drones.

Of the injured, nine were hospitalized, the mayor added.

It was yet another night when explosions in different parts of the city of 3.6 million jolted people out of bed and sent them scurrying for cover.

While Kyiv has been attacked since the first days of the war, the pace and intensity of the assaults over the past month have been jarring even for civilians now used to spending long hours in bomb shelters and sleepless nights huddled in corridors. And Thursday’s strikes seemed to suggest it would be more of the same in June.

Explosions echoed across Ukraine’s capital for hours before dawn on Sunday as air defense teams raced to combat the largest swarm of Russian attack drones targeting Kyiv since the war began more than 15 months ago.

The Ukrainian Air Force said it had shot down 58 out of 59 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones aimed at targets in central Ukraine, describing the number launched as a record. More than 40 drones were intercepted over the capital, where city officials said at least one person had been killed and another injured, probably by falling debris.

As Ukraine draws closer to launching a counteroffensive aimed at reclaiming land lost in the first months of the war, Moscow has stepped up its assaults on Kyiv. The capital has been attacked 14 times this month by waves of Russian drones, cruise missiles and sophisticated ballistic missiles.

“This was the largest-ever drone attack on the capital since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, particularly using Shahed loitering munitions,” the Kyiv military administration said in a statement.

Ukraine’s complex air defense network has become adept at intercepting the Russian barrages, often shooting down the majority of the dozens of drones and missiles. The arrival this spring of the American-made Patriot system, the most advanced U.S. ground-based air-defense system, has given it an added layer of protection. This month Ukrainian air defenses managed for the first time to shoot down some of the most sophisticated conventional weapons in Russia’s arsenal, hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, according to Ukrainian and American officials.

While nearly every assault on Kyiv in May has been thwarted, the attack on Sunday was the first to result in the loss of life.

ImageA yellow building shows signs of damage.
A tobacco factory damaged by debris in Kyiv on Sunday. Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times
A yellow building shows signs of damage.

One person died and another was hospitalized after debris from a downed drone hit a seven-story nonresidential building, the Kyiv military administration said in a statement. It said the roof of a shopping mall caught fire and a warehouse was set ablaze.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine praised the work of Ukraine’s air defense forces, calling them heroes.

“Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved,” he wrote in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

The assault on the capital came as Ukrainians prepared to mark the city’s founding 1,541 years ago, a holiday traditionally celebrated on the last Sunday in May.

“The history of Ukraine is a longstanding irritant for complex Russians,” Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said after the assault, vowing revenge.

Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, said the “record number” of drones aimed at Kyiv were “gifts” from Russia on Kyiv Day but that air defense teams working through the night had probably saved hundreds of lives by ensuring “only fragments” remained by the time the assault ended.

Ukrainian officials were quick to note that Moscow has targeted the capital since the first days of the war, when they hoped to quickly seize Kyiv. The intensity of the assaults has ebbed and flowed — with Ukrainian officials saying that Russia is constantly trying to adapt its tactics.

In the latest attack, air alarms sounded in Kyiv at around 1 a.m. on Sunday as the first wave of Shahed-136 drones streaming toward the city was detected.

Image

A triangle shaped drone seen in the sky.
An unmanned aerial vehicle in the distinctive shape of an Iranian-made Shahed-136 in the sky over Kyiv during a drone attack in October. Credit…Roman Petushkov/Reuters
A triangle shaped drone seen in the sky.

“The routes of these aircraft were somewhat unconventional,” Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern command, said in an appearance on national television.

“They tried to bypass the southern air defense as much as possible, as evidenced by the fact that they flew mainly over the temporarily occupied territories and then dispersed across Ukraine,” she added, saying that the drones had hugged riverbeds in an attempt to evade radar.

The Ukrainian Air Force has explained how missiles and drones become less visible on radar the closer they press to the ground, which is one reason it is hard to shoot them down outside the Kyiv city limits.

Ukraine’s most sophisticated air-defense systems like the Patriot — which employs interceptor missiles that cost $4 million per shot — are largely reserved for countering Moscow’s most sophisticated missiles. To counter the Iranian-made drones Russia has been launching, Ukraine has tended to rely on less expensive weapons like antiaircraft guns and Stinger missiles.

At around 2 a.m., the skies above Kyiv lit up with tracer fire as the Ukrainian air defense teams took aim at the drones over the heart of the city.

While the drones themselves, with their distinctive triangular wing design, were often not immediately visible to civilians watching the battle in the sky, when the Ukrainians found their target, the resulting explosion looked like a fireworks display.

For nearly five hours, explosions echoed across the capital until the last drone disappeared from Ukrainian radar.

Image

Debris is seen inside a dark room.
Damage inside a building struck by debris in Kyiv on Sunday. Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times
Debris is seen inside a dark room.

Here’s what else is happening in Ukraine:

  • Frontline Strikes: Russian attacks on towns and cities closer to the front line continued. Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling of the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine injured at least one person. Russian fire killed at least one person in the town of Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine, the officials said. Nearly two dozen villages near the front in the southern Zaporizhzhia region were hit in artillery attacks, injuring at least four civilians, local officials said. Russia also continued to shell towns and cities close to the border, killing two people in the Kharkiv region, local officials said.

  • Dnipro Death Toll: Local officials said the death toll from a Russian missile strike on a medical facility in Dnipro on Friday has climbed to four. The authorities initially expressed hopes that people still listed as missing might be found alive.

    “The three people who went missing during the missile attack on Dnipro have been found,” the Dnipro military administration said in a statement on Sunday. “Unfortunately, they have been killed.”

    A 56-year-old doctor, a 64-year-old employee of the damaged medical facility and a 57-year-old employee of a neighboring veterinary clinic were among the victims.

  • Bakhmut: Combat has largely subsided in the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, with only one clash reported over the past 24 hours, Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces, said Sunday on national television.

    Russia now controls the shattered city after a bloody months long battle, and the Wagner mercenary group — whose fighters led much of the assault — appears to be following through on a pledge by its founder, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, to withdraw from there. Mr. Cherevaty said that Russia was “rotating its troops, replacing Wagner” fighters with other units. That echoed an assessment from Britain’s defense intelligence agency on Saturday.

    Ukrainian officials have said Kyiv’s forces had recaptured land on the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut. But Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense, said on Saturday that Ukraine had halted combat operations there for now.

A person was killed by falling debris from an intercepted drone. Ukraine said it shot down more than 40 drones, the largest attack on Kyiv since the start of the war.

At least one person was killed and another was injured on Sunday morning in Kyiv as Russia fired its largest wave of attack drones at the Ukrainian capital since the start of the war.

A 41-year-old man died after fragments from a drone that was shot down fell to the ground, according to Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, and the city’s military administration. The first wave of explosions, including three that damaged buildings across the city, came shortly after 2 a.m. local time, according to Mr. Klitschko. The air-raid warning was lifted at about 6 a.m.

Russia has intensified its focus on Kyiv in May, unleashing its biggest and most sustained attack there since at least March, with near-nightly volleys of missiles and drones. Sunday’s attack, the 14th this month, appeared to be the first deadly one in May. Ukraine’s air defenses destroyed more than 40 drones, the most fired at Kyiv in one night, the city’s military administration said on Telegram.

Ukraine’s armed force have become adept at intercepting the Russian barrages, often shooting down dozens of drones and missiles. As of this month, Ukraine has been using U.S.-made Patriot antimissile systems, one of the most advanced air defense systems, as part of its growing arsenal of weapons.

In a show of just how skilled Ukraine’s armed forces have become, its air defense system shot down Kinzhals aimed at Kyiv earlier this month on more than one occasion, according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials. The weapon is one of Russia’s most sophisticated conventional weapons. And while some analysts have cast doubt on the abilities of the Kinzhal, Ukraine’s defense against them demonstrates a great capability to withstand Russia’s arsenal, which includes Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, signaled that the nation’s armed forces were ready to launch their counteroffensive, but stopped short of declaring an official start to it. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have grown bolder and attacked deeper into Russian territory, trading drone and missile attacks with Russia, and targeting military and industrial facilities key to Russia’s war effort.