Ahead of the anniversary of its founding in AD 482, Kiev suffered the largest drone strike since the war with Russia began, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.
Ukraine’s Air Force said in a statement to Telegram that a “record number” of 54 Russian-Iranian-made “Shahed” drones were fired at the city overnight, but added that it shot down 52 of them. NBC News has not been able to independently verify these numbers.
The attack primarily targeted military installations and critical infrastructure in central Ukraine, including Kiev, the statement said.
In a separate Telegram post, the Kiev city military authority said the attack “was carried out in multiple waves and the air alert lasted more than five hours.”
It added that it was “the most massive drone attack on the capital since the start of the full-scale invasion, namely the ‘Shahed’ munitions fire.”
Shahed drones are self-igniting airguns that allow the munitions to loiter over a target until called upon to attack, destroying the weapon in the process. Iran is believed to have sent hundreds of these weapons to Russia since it began its invasion last February.
At least one person was killed and another person was hospitalized after being hit by falling debris from buildings, the military authority said.
The debris also caught fire at a mall and a three-story warehouse, causing 10,800 square meters of destruction, sources said.
Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv’s mayor, also said on Telegram that buildings had caught fire in the historical Perchersk district in the city center, famous for its monastery with the relics of saints.
Backed by sophisticated Western-supplied systems, Ukraine has been able to thwart Russian airstrikes – both drones and missiles. In early May, Ukraine prevented a fierce Russian airstrike on Kiev and shot down all missiles aimed at the capital.
The latest attacks came as Kiev was preparing for the anniversary of the city’s official founding. Usually, the day is celebrated with live concerts, street parties, exhibitions and fireworks, but reduced celebrations are planned for this year’s anniversary celebration.
“Ukraine’s history has long been a nuisance to complex Russians,” Andriy Yermak, head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, told Telegram on Sunday. “Old Kiev, Ukrainian Kiev…UAV attack.”
The attack came as speculation grew about a long-awaited counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces.
“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 areas of the front line,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told NBC News on Saturday.
Podolyak acknowledged that preparations are already underway and also praised a cleverly produced video that Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the supreme commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, posted to Telegram on Saturday.
It showed Ukrainian troops training, taking an oath and preparing for battle, along with the caption “The time has come to give back what is ours.”
If Ukraine’s top general is proposing this, he has good reason, Podolyak said, adding that it shows “that Ukraine may be almost ready to launch a major operation to liberate its territories.”
Molly Hunter And Reuters contributed.