KYIV, May 28 (Reuters) – Russia unleashed airstrikes overnight in what officials said was the largest drone strike in Kyiv, but crowds took to the streets on Sunday to celebrate the anniversary of the Ukrainian capital’s founding.
The Ukrainian military said it shot down 58 of the 59 drones launched, in what the air force described as a record attack with Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones. President Volodymyr Zelensky said all 36 drones targeting Kiev had been destroyed.
The pre-dawn attacks came on the last Sunday in 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 Kiev,” Zelensky said in his nightly speech.
In what appeared to be the first deadly attack on Kyiv in May and the 14th this month, falling rubble killed a 41-year-old man, Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said, and injured several others.
KYIV day meeting
Despite being exhausted from staying late in shelters, residents took to the streets during the day to attend live concerts, sample food stalls and enjoy craft displays at festivals, which were scaled back from previous years.
“Strength is in the people, it is in the cities, it is in life, and if the most important cities for life, people and culture are despised, Russia will only face defeat,” Zelensky said.
Moscow has not commented on the attacks. Separately, Russian media quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as reiterating that Moscow’s goals in Ukraine would be met.
Several districts of Kiev, Ukraine’s largest city of about 3 million people, were hit by overnight attacks, officials said, including the historic Becherskyi neighborhood.
Witnesses told Reuters that many people stood on their balconies during the air raid warning that began after midnight, some throwing knife attacks at Russian President Vladimir Putin and chanting “Glory to the air defense”.
France condemned in “the strongest terms” the attack, which killed at least two people and injured many others, saying it was a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.
“These unacceptable acts are war crimes and cannot go unpunished,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
A looming counter-attack
Ukraine’s air force said on Sunday it had targeted military and critical infrastructure facilities in central Ukraine, particularly the Kyiv region – in an escalating Ukrainian counterattack.
Zelensky said a drone struck an unidentified infrastructure target in the Zhytomyr region, west of the capital.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told Ukrainian television that fighter jets and mobile air defense systems were used to shoot down the drones.
He did not say what systems were used. He had previously said that Ukraine was using NASAMS air defense systems to destroy Shahed drones.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s air force thanked the United States for sending more NASAM systems, among other things, as well as US-made Stinger portable systems used to shoot down drones that were part of the US April aid package.
The expensive Patriot systems, it said Sunday, made air defense more effective and were used mainly for sophisticated weapons such as Russia’s hypersonic Kinsale missiles.
Reuters could not independently verify information on what systems were used or how many drones were launched and destroyed.
Sunday’s attacks followed what it said was an easing of fighting around the besieged city of Bakhmut in southeastern Ukraine, the site of the war’s longest battle.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, said only one military clash had occurred in Bagmut in the past 24 hours, although Russian forces continued heavy artillery fire.
Over the weekend, Kyiv signaled its forces were ready to launch a long-promised counteroffensive to recapture territory captured by Russia 15 months into the war.
“Throughout its history, Kyiv has seen various indignities from the invaders. It has survived them all, and it (the Russians) will survive,” Zelenskiy said on Sunday.
Report by Valentyn Ogirenko and Gleb Garanich; Additional reporting by Oleksandr Kolukar; Nick Starkov, Lydia Kelly, Sybil de la Hamite in Paris; By Lydia Kelly and Ron Popsky; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Christopher Cushing, Sharon Singleton and Michael Perry
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