Ukraine said on Monday it had shot down all Russian drones in a massive wave of attacks, after Moscow launched an unprecedented third straight night of air strikes against civilian targets, intensifying its air war for the New Year holiday.
Russian officials meanwhile were reeling from reports that high numbers of freshly mobilised Russian troops had been killed in a strike on a college converted to a barracks in occupied Ukraine, where soldiers were housed with an ammunition dump. A source close to the Russian-installed authorities told Reuters dozens had died.
Russia has seen in the new year with nightly attacks on Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, hundreds of kilometres from the front lines. That marks a change in tactics after months in which Moscow usually spaced such strikes around a week apart.
After firing dozens of missiles on Dec. 31, Russia launched dozens of Iranian-made Shahed drones on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. But Kyiv said on Monday it had shot down all 39 drones in the latest wave, including 22 shot down over the capital.
Kyiv said the new tactic was a sign of Russia’s desperation as Ukraine’s ability to defend its air space had improved.
Russia had been trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure for months but had failed as Ukraine obtained better defences, presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said on Telegram.
“Now they are looking for routes and attempts to hit us somehow, but their terror tactics will not work. Our sky will turn into a shield.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised Ukrainians for showing gratitude to the troops and one another and said Russia’s efforts would prove useless.
“Drones, missiles, everything else will not help them,” he said of the Russians. “Because we stand united. They are united only by fear.”
Ukraine’s air defence systems worked through the night to bring down incoming drones and to warn communities of the approaching danger.
“It is loud in the region and in the capital: night drone attacks,” Kyiv Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said.
“Russians launched several waves of Shahed drones. Targeting critical infrastructure facilities. Air defence is at work.”
Russia, which has seized and claims to have annexed around a fifth of Ukraine, has turned to mass air strikes against Ukrainian cities since suffering humiliating defeats on the battlefield in the second half of 2022.
It says its attacks, which have knocked out heat and power to millions in winter, aim to reduce Kyiv’s ability to fight. Ukraine says the attacks have no military purpose and are intended to hurt civilians, a war crime.