Ahead of the anniversary of its founding in 482 A.D., Kyiv suffered the largest drone attack since the start of the war with Russia, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.

Ukraine’s Air Force said in a statement on Telegram that a “record number” of 54 Russia-launched, Iranian-made “Shahed” drones were launched at the city overnight, although it added that it had shot down 52 of them. NBC News was unable to independently verify these figures.

The attack was primarily directed at military facilities and critical infrastructure in the center of Ukraine, including Kyiv, the statement said.

Image: New Wave Of Aerial Attacks Hit Kyiv
KYIV, UKRAINE – MAY 28: A man clears debris in a building damaged during a Russian drone attack on May 28, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. According to Ukrainian Air Forces, it had intercepted 52 out of 54 Iranian-made drones Shahed-136 launched by Russia targeting Ukraine. Over 40 drones were shot down over the capital Kyiv, with at least one person killed, and another injured. It was Russia’s biggest air attack on Kyiv since the beginning of the war. (Photo by Roman Pilipey/Getty Images)Roman Pilipey / Getty Images

In a separate Telegram post, the Kyiv City Military Authority said the attack “was carried out in several waves, and the air alert lasted more than 5 hours.”

It added that it was “the most massive drone attack on the capital since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, namely with the ‘Shahed’ barrage of ammunition.”

“Shahed” drones are self-detonating aerial weapons in which the munition can loiter over a target until instructed to attack, destroying the weapon in the process. Iran is believed to have sent hundreds of these weapons to Russia since the beginning of its invasion last February. 

At least one person was killed and another was taken to hospital after they were hit by falling debris from buildings that were struck, the military authority said.

A shopping mall and a three-story warehouse also caught fire as a result of the debris, causing 10,800 square feet of destruction, it added.

A rescuer puts out a fire after a massive drone attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Sunday.PAVLO PETROV / AFP – Getty Images

Vitali Klitchko, Kyiv’s mayor, also took to Telegram to say that buildings had caught fire in the historic neighborhood of Perchersk in the city center, which is famous for its monastery containing the relics of saints.

Bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied systems, Ukraine has been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks — both drones and aircraft missiles. Earlier in May, Ukraine prevented an intense Russian air attack on Kyiv, shooting down all missiles aimed at the capital.

The most recent attacks came as Kyiv prepared to the mark he anniversary of the city’s official founding. The day is usually celebrated with live concerts, street fairs, exhibitions and fireworks, but scaled-back festivities are planned for this year — the city’s 1,541st anniversary.

“The history of Ukraine is a long-standing irritant for complex Russians,” said Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said on Telegram on Sunday. “Ancient Kyiv, Ukrainian Kyiv… UAV attack.”

The attack’s came as speculation ratcheted up about a long-anticipated counteroffensive from Ukrainian forces.

May 27, 202301:25

“We are preparing the battlefield for the new phase of the war. It’s going on now. It is a large number of measures in different sectors of the front line,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told NBC News Saturday.

Conceding that preparation was well underway, Podolyak also praised a slickly produced video posted on Telegram Saturday by Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces.

It showed Ukrainian troops training, swearing an oath and preparing for battle, alongside the caption “The time has come to return what is ours.”

If Ukraine’s top general is suggesting that, he’ll have a good reason, Podolyak said. He added that it showed “that Ukraine maybe almost ready to start a big operation aimed at the liberation of its territories.”

Molly Hunter and Reuters contributed.


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