May 28, 2023 –Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has praised his country’s air defence forces after Russia’s largest drone attack on Kyiv since the war began.
“You are heroes,” said Mr Zelensky, after military commanders said most of the so-called kamikaze drones launched by Russia were brought down.
However two people were killed and several others wounded from debris.
Russia has stepped up its attacks on Kyiv in recent weeks, seeking to overwhelm the capital’s defences.
The overnight attack – Russia’s 14th air attack on Kyiv this month – came as the people of the capital prepared to celebrate Kyiv Day, the anniversary of the city’s foundation more than 1,500 years ago.
In a remarkable demonstration of resilience, people took to parks, bars and restaurants in the capital to celebrate the holiday.\
Kyiv’s mayor Vitaliy Klitschko earlier described the overnight attack as “massive”, saying drones were “arriving from several directions at once”.
Some buildings, including a tobacco factory, caught fire after being hit by falling drone fragments.
Elsewhere, in the city of Zhytomyr in the north-west of Ukraine, at least 26 residential buildings were damaged as well as schools and medical units, according to online news site Ukrayinska Pravda.
But military commanders said Ukraine’s air defence forces had shot down 58 out of 59 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia.
Praising his air force, Mr Zelensky said: “Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved… you are heroes.”
He later added in his evening address: “Most of the destruction was averted, and most of the lives that could have been taken by these shaheds [drones] were saved. I am grateful to each and every person who made it possible.”
Kyiv resident Anastasiia said that she was asleep at home when she was woken up by the sound of a drone flying “very close” to her window.
“I then saw a big flash of light inside the flat… it was so bright that I could not see anything,” she told the BBC, adding that the sound of the explosions came “two or three seconds after the flash. It was very loud, like thunder”.
“The bright light was transformed into total darkness. I wanted to check if there was any damage. I could not understand what happened. I was in shock so I did not feel scared. I could not understand if I and my flat were OK.”
In its recent attacks, Russia – which launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022 – has been using so-called kamikaze drones as well as a range of cruise and ballistic missiles.
Analysts say Moscow is seeking to deplete and damage Ukraine’s air defences ahead of its long-expected counter-offensive.
On Saturday, one of Ukraine’s most senior security officials told the BBC the country was ready to launch such an operation.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the powerful National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, said an assault to retake territory from President Vladimir Putin’s occupying forces could begin “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week”.
- ‘We’re ready to begin counter-offensive’ – Ukraine
Ukraine has been planning a counter-offensive for months. But it has wanted as much time as possible to train troops and to receive military equipment from Western allies.