Kyiv: Ukrainian forces shot down 13 drones on Wednesday, officials said, as Russia launched its first major drone attack on the capital in weeks and the United States considered sending its advanced Patriot air defence system to help Ukraine.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said explosions had rocked the central Shevchenkivskyi district and that two administrative buildings had been damaged. An air raid alert was lifted three hours after it began.
Serhii Popko, head of the Kyiv’s city military administration, said 13 drones had been destroyed.
In one Kyiv district, residents said they heard the sound of an Iranian Shahed drone - known as “mopeds” by Ukrainians because of the loud whirring of their engines - followed by a powerful explosion at a building next to their homes.
“I was already in the kitchen - I heard everything I heard the buzzing ‘moped’ and I ran into the bathroom,” said Yana, 39, who had been getting ready for work.
One attack appeared to have ripped through a chunk of the roof of a nearby walled-off brick building. It was unclear what the building was used for.
Some of the windows of nearby residential buildings had been smashed. Bits of the roof were strewn in the snow along with bricks and other debris. Shocked residents, wrapped up against the cold, inspected the damage.
They said no one appeared to have been wounded.
Russia, which attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” its neighbour, has unleashed barrages of missile attacks on energy infrastructure since October. Ukraine’s grid operator said energy facilities had not sustained any damage in Wednesday’s attack.
Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said the attack was deliberately timed for when it was dark to make it harder to shoot the drones down.
“The air defences worked well.” he said. “Thirteen (drones) were shot down.” “Well done, I am proud,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a brief video message, praising the air defence systems which he said appeared to have shot down all the drones.
Ukraine has already received air defence systems from the West, including from the United States. The Patriot is considered one of the most advanced.
US officials told Reuters an announcement on a decision on providing the system could come as soon as Thursday. The Patriot is usually in short supply, with allies around the world vying for it.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that US Patriot missile defence systems would be a legitimate target for Russian strikes against Ukraine, should the United States authorise them to be delivered to support Kyiv.
The Patriot system would help Ukraine defend against waves of Russian missile and drone attacks that have pounded the country’s energy infrastructure.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces morning report highlighted the need for air defence systems throughout the country.
It said in the past 24 hours in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions “the enemy launched 1 air and 11 missile strikes, 3 of them on the civilian infrastructure...(and) launched more than 60 attacks from multiple rocket launchers”.
Russian shells hit the regional administration building on the central square of the recently liberated southern city of Kherson, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office said.
Ukraine recaptured Kherson from Russian forces on Nov. 11, prompting days of celebrations on the square by city residents.
Russian forces have been shelling Kherson from the opposite side of the Dnipro River since leaving the city.
Gaining Patriot air defence capability would be “very, very significant” for the Kyiv government, said Alexander Vindman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and one-time leader of Ukraine policy at the White House.
“These are going to be quite capable of dealing with a lot of different challenges the Ukrainians have, especially if the Russians bring in short-range ballistic missiles” from Iran.
The Pentagon declined comment. There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials.
Kyiv held high-level military talks on Tuesday with Washington, Zelenskiy’s office said. The United States has given Ukraine $19.3 billion in military assistance since Russia’s attack.
Millions of civilians enduring Europe’s biggest conflict since World War Two have had to contend with cuts to power, heat and water as sub-zero temperatures take hold.
In Paris, about 70 countries and institutions pledged just over 1 billion euros ($1.05 billion) to help maintain Ukraine’s water, food, energy, health and transport in face of Russia’s attacks.
Sergey Kovalenko, the head of the YASNO power company, said on Facebook that repairs continued on the electricity grid but that Kyiv still only had two-thirds of the power it needed.
Zelenskiy called on Russia this week to start withdrawing its troops from his country by Christmas as the first step towards a peace deal.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday it had not received any proposals about a “Christmas ceasefire” in Ukraine.