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Fierce Russian drone attack shatters Kyiv’s calm


KYIV — Russia launched a fierce swarm of explosive drones at Kyiv and other targets early Saturday, interrupting a weeks-long relative lull in the Ukrainian capital and adding to its darkening mood.

Ukraine’s military said air defenses destroyed 74 of 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones during a six-hour attack that included dozens of the weapons aimed at Kyiv in what the city’s mayor said was the largest drone attack since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

All of the pilotless craft headed for Kyiv were intercepted and destroyed, although falling debris struck a kindergarten, ignited a few fires and injured five people, including an 11-year-old child, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a post on Telegram.

The noisiest day in weeks, if not months, came as a reminder of more hard days ahead — with many Ukrainians bracing for Russia to attack civilian infrastructure throughout the winter. But in Kyiv, that fear has percolated beneath an eerie calm in recent weeks.

“In Kyiv, to be honest, we don’t feel the war that much anymore,” Mykola Yarmoluk, 68, a retired member of Ukraine’s diplomatic service, said just days before Saturday’s pre-dawn drone attack.

Yarmoluk said the many scorched and rusted wrecks of Russian tanks on display in the city had receded into the background, as had memories of nightly air-raid sirens and Russian airstrikes.

Sandbags are still piled as defenses near key government buildings, and Kyiv’s two airports remain shattered. High-level visitors, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was in town last weekend, still must arrive by ground from Poland.

But for weeks, there had been general, if uneasy, quietness in the capital, even as intense fighting continued on the eastern and southern fronts.

In the overnight strikes, Russia sent waves of drones from different directions and on a mix of flight paths in a bid to confuse Ukraine’s air defenses, according to Ukrainian media.

The Ukrainian air force said on its Telegram channel that 15 of 20 drones had been shot down in airspace in the Kyiv, Poltava and Cherkasy regions. A Russian missile was launched at Kyiv on Nov. 11 but was intercepted, thwarting what was the first such attack after a 52-day lull.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested that Russia’s large drone assault was timed to coincide with the day on which Ukrainians commemorate the Holodomor, the famine engineered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the early 1930s that killed millions of Ukrainians.

“We’ve got one option: keep living and keep fighting back,” said Yarmoluk, the retired diplomat. He said he and many other Ukrainians remain stubbornly optimistic.

Despite the relative quiet, the mood in Kyiv had been darkening for weeks, as senior military officials acknowledged that Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive had largely stalled and international attention shifted to the war in the Gaza Strip.

Officials in Kyiv also have watched warily as some Republicans in Congress blocked additional aid for Ukraine proposed by President Biden, and as Russian President Vladimir Putin lined up support for his war effort from Iran and North Korea.

At home, the scrappy spirit of determination and unity that had been holding the country together against a superior foe has given way to a realization that the war is at a deadlock, and a worry among Ukrainians that its terrible math favors Russia, the far larger and better-armed aggressor.

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