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(AP) — Waves of explosive-laden drones struck Ukraine’s capital Monday, setting buildings ablaze and tearing a hole in one while sending people scurrying for shelter or attempting to shoot down the kamikazes.
The concentrated use of drones was the second barrage in as many weeks — after months where air attacks had become become a rarity in central Kyiv. The assault sowed terror and frayed nerves as blasts echoed across the city. Energy facilities were struck, and one drone slammed into a residential building, killing three people, authorities said.
The attack drones appeared to include Iranian-made Shaheds. Intense, sustained bursts of gunfire rang out as they buzzed overhead, apparently soldiers trying to shoot them down. Others headed for shelter, nervously scanning the skies. But Ukraine has become grimly accustomed to attacks nearly eight months into the Russian invasion and city life resumed as rescuers picked through the debris.
Previous Russian airstrikes on Kyiv were mostly with missiles. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Monday’s barrage came in successive waves of 28 drones — in what many fear could become a more common mode of attack as Russia seeks to avoid depleting its stockpiles of long-range precision missiles.
Five drones plunged into Kyiv itself, said Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. In the Kyiv region, at least 13 were shot down, all of them flying in from the south, said a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, Yurii Ihnat.
One strike appeared to target the city’s heating network, hitting an operations center. Another slammed into a four-story residential building, ripping a large hole in it and collapsing at least three apartments on top of each other. Three bodies were recovered from the rubble, including those of a woman who was 6-months pregnant and her husband, said Klitschko. The other person killed there was an older woman.
An Associated Press photographer who was out shooting morning scenes of Kyiv caught one of the drones on camera, its triangle-shaped wing and pointed warhead clearly visible against the blue sky.
“The whole night, and the whole 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 can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us,” he wrote.
Andrii Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said in a social media post that Shahed drones were among those used in the strike.
Zelenskyy, citing Ukrainian intelligence services, has previously alleged that Russia has ordered 2,400 of the Shahed drones from Iran. Russia has rebranded them as Geran-2 drones — meaning geranium in Russian. A photo of debris from one of Monday’s strikes, posted by Klitschko, showed the word Geran-2 marked on a mangled tail-fin.
Iran has previously denied providing Russia with weapons, although its Revolutionary Guard chief has boasted about providing arms to the world’s top powers, without elaborating.
The drones pack an explosive charge and can linger over targets before nosediving into them. Their blasts jolted people awake early Monday morning. They included Snizhana Kutrakova, 42, who lives close to where one of the drones came down.
“I’m full of rage,” she said. “Full of rage and hate.”
Iranian-made drones have been repeatedly used by Russia elsewhere in Ukraine in recent weeks against urban centres and infrastructure, including power stations.
They are comparatively cheap, costing in the region of US$20,000. Their use in swarms presents a challenge to Ukrainian air defenses, said Ihnat, the Air Force spokesman. Western nations have promised to bolster Ukrainian air defenses with systems that can shoot down drones but much of that weaponry has yet to arrive and, in some cases, may be months away.
“The challenges are serious because the air defense forces and means are the same as they were at the beginning of the war,” Ihnat said. Some air defense weaponry supplied by Western nations can only be used during daylight hours when targets are visible, he added.
After months during which strikes in central Kyiv were rare, early morning strikes last week put Kyiv as well as the rest of the country back on edge.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said those strikes were in retaliation for the bombing of a bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula with the Russian mainland. Putin blames Ukraine for masterminding the blast, which suspended traffic over the bridge and curtailed Moscow’s ability to supply Russian troops in the occupied regions of southern Ukraine.
The strike on Kyiv comes as fighting has intensified in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in recent days, as well as the continued Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south near Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Zelenskyy said in his Sunday evening address that there was heavy fighting around the cities of Bakhmut and Soledar in the Donetsk region.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the industrial east known as the 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 shelled its central administrative building in a direct hit. No casualties were reported.