KYIV, May 28 (Reuters) – Russia unleashed waves of air strikes on Kyiv overnight in what officials said was the largest drone attack of the city but crowds poured into the streets later on Sunday to celebrate the anniversary of the Ukrainian capital’s founding.
Ukrainian military said it had downed 58 of the 59 launched drones, described by the air force as a record assault with the Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said all 36 drones targeting Kyiv had been destroyed.
The pre-dawn attacks came on the last Sunday of May when the capital celebrates Kyiv Day, the anniversary of its official founding 1,541 years ago.
“This is how Russia celebrates the day of our ancient Kyiv,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address.
In what also appears to be the first deadly attack on Kyiv in May and the 14th assault this month, falling debris killed a 41-year-old man, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said, while several other people were injured.
KYIV DAY CROWDS
Despite being exhausted from late-night stay in shelters, residents descended into the streets during the day to attend live concerts, sample food stalls and enjoy craft shows in festivities that were scaled down from previous years.
“Strength is in people, it is in cities, it is in life, and when life, people, and the most important cities for culture are despised, Russia will only face defeat,” Zelenskiy said.
Moscow did not comment on the attacks. Separately, Russian media cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as reiterating that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine will be achieved.
Several districts of Kyiv, by far the largest Ukrainian city with a population of around 3 million, suffered in the overnight attacks, officials said, including the historical Pecherskyi neighbourhood.
Reuters witnesses said that during the air raid alerts that started soon after midnight, many people stood on their balconies, some screaming offensives directed at Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and “Glory to air defence” slogans.
“These unacceptable acts constitute war crimes and cannot go unpunished,” the French foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.
Ukraine’s Air Force said that Russia had targeted on Sunday military and critical infrastructure facilities in central Ukraine, and the Kyiv region in particular – as has been increasingly the case with a Ukrainian counteroffensive looming.
Zelenskiy said one drone hit an unidentified infrastructure target in the Zhytomyr region, west of the capital.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuri Ihnat told Ukrainian television that a combination of fighter aircraft and mobile air defence systems were used to down the drones.
He did not say what systems were deployed. He has said previously that Ukraine uses the NASAMS air defence systems to destroy the Shahed drones.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s Air Force thanked the United States for sending more of the NASAM systems, among others, as well as the U.S.-made Stinger portable systems also used for downing drones, that were part of the U.S. April aid package.
The expensive Patriots systems, Ihnat said on Sunday, have made air defences more effective and have been used chiefly for more sophisticated weaponry, such as Russia’s hypersonic Kinzhal missiles.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the information on what systems were used or how many drones were launched and destroyed.
The Sunday attacks came after Kyiv said that combat clashes eased around the besieged city of Bakhmut in southeastern Ukraine, the site of the war’s longest battle.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern military grouping said only one military clash had occurred in Bakhmut over the past 24 hours, though Russian forces maintained heavy artillery strikes.
Over the weekend, Kyiv indicated that its forces were ready to launch a long-promised counteroffensive to recapture territory taken by Russia in the 15 months of the war.
“Throughout its history, Kyiv has seen various meanness from invaders. It has survived them all, and it will survive the (Russians),” Zelenskiy said on Sunday.