Waves of suicide drones hit Ukrainian capital, 4 dead

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Waves of explosive-laden suicide drones slammed into the Ukrainian capital on Monday, setting buildings on fire, punching a hole in one and sending people rushing to safety or try to shoot them down in what the president called Russia’s attempt to terrorize civilians.

The concentrated use of suicide drones was the second barrage in as many weeks – after months in which aerial attacks had become rare in central Kyiv. The assault struck fear 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 flurries of gunfire rang out as the Iranian-made Shahed drones buzzed overhead, apparently as soldiers attempted to destroy them. Others took cover, nervously scanning the sky. But Ukraine has become eerily accustomed to attacks nearly eight months after the Russian invasion began, and life in the city 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.

Kyiv police body camera video shows a moment that was shot on Monday. (Source: kyiv POLICE/CNN)

Also on Monday, a Russian Su-34 fighter jet crashed into a residential area of ​​the Russian port of Yeysk on the Sea of ​​Azov after engine failure – killing at least four people on the ground, injuring 25 others. and sparking a fire that engulfed several floors of a nine-story building, authorities said.

The region’s deputy governor, Anna Menkova, said three of the victims died jumping from the upper floors of the building to escape the flames, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency. Six other people were missing.

The two crew members, on a training mission, bailed out safely, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

In Kyiv, 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 exhausting 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, opening a gaping hole and collapsing at least three apartments. 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.

According to Ukrainian officials, two schools were destroyed by Russian missiles on Sunday. (Credit: CNN Newsource)

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 Zelensky said in a message posted on social media. “Drones and kamikaze missiles are attacking all over Ukraine.”

In a televised address to the nation Monday night, Zelenskyy said Moscow was resorting to drones because it was losing the war.

“Russia has no chance on the battlefield and it tries to compensate for its military defeats with terror,” he said. “Why this terror? To put pressure on us, on Europe, on the whole world.

Zelenskyy, citing Ukrainian intelligence, alleges that Russia ordered 2,400 drones from Iran. Russia renamed them drones Geran-2 – “geranium” in Russian. A photo of debris from one of Monday’s strikes, posted by Klitschko, showed “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 shook people, including Snizhana Kutrakova, 42, who lives near one of the strikes.

“I am 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, and he and Zelenskyy reiterated Ukraine’s need for air defense and armament.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the 27-nation bloc was gathering evidence on Iran’s drone sales to Russia, and if it’s true, “we’ll be ready 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 is planning 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 military about $1 million each.

Swarms of drones also challenge Ukrainian air defenses. Western nations have promised systems capable of shooting down drones, but many of these weapons have yet to arrive and could be months away.

“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 the targets are visible, he added.

Russian forces have also struck energy infrastructure elsewhere, 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 in the Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.

The Ukrainian nuclear operator said Russian bombings again cut 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 bombing cuts its power lines, the factory is forced to rely on diesel generators – a temporary stopgap.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday there was no need for more widespread attacks on Ukraine – after a previous barrage of strikes he said were retaliation for the shelling of a bridge linking 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.

After months in which strikes in central Kyiv were rare, the recent attacks have put the country and its capital on edge again.

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 had been 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 four regions annexed by Russia in September in defiance of international law.

In the south, the Ukrainian Air Force reported shooting down nine drones in the Mykolaiv region and six in the Odessa region. The governor of the eastern Kharkiv region said night attacks on a town and villages left one dead and four injured.

Russia and Ukraine also exchanged prisoners on Monday. The Russian Defense Ministry said 110 freed Russians included 72 commercial ship sailors detained since February, while 108 Ukrainian women were handed over to authorities in Kyiv, two of whom said they wanted to stay in Russia. The Ukrainian side confirmed the exchange but not that two Ukrainians decided to stay in Russia.

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Christi C. Elwood